Russia shells largest nuclear power plant in Europe, sparking blaze

Enerhodar, Ukraine - Ukraine's leaders said early Friday that Russian forces were targeting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant complex in the country's south and had sparked a fire there.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the largest in Europe.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the largest in Europe.  © IMAGO / Ukrinform

"The biggest nuclear power plant in Europe is on fire," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in the early hours of Friday in a video posted on his Telegram channel.

He said Russian tanks were shelling the reactor units.

"There are tanks equipped with thermal imaging cameras. That means they know where they're shooting, they've prepared for it."

Zelensky concedes dire Ukrainian position as Russian forces continue rapid advance
Ukraine conflict Zelensky concedes dire Ukrainian position as Russian forces continue rapid advance

It was not possible to independently verify his statements.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze early in the morning, the Ukrainian state civil defense said, adding there were no plans to evacuate homes in nearby Enerhodar.

Zaporizhzhia Mayor Dmitry Orlov said there were casualties from Russian shelling, but there was no information about how many, UNIAN news agency reported.

After she spoke with her Ukrainian counterpart Herman Halushchenko, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the power plant's reactors are protected by robust containment structures, and reactors are being safely shut down.

Halushchenko said he called for the closure of Ukraine's airspace and NATO intervention in the call with Granholm. He said tanks and aircraft were firing on the plant.

"That is why we demand not only a professional assessment of what is happening, but a real intervention with the toughest measures, including by NATO and countries that have nuclear weapons," Halushchenko wrote on Facebook early Friday.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had earlier tweeted that the Russian army was "firing from all sides" at the plant and said a fire had broken out. He warned an accident could be "10 times larger" than Chernobyl. Zelensky also pointed to the Chernobyl disaster as an example of the danger.

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986 remains one of the world's worst nuclear disasters. After the explosion of a reactor block, radioactive substances spread over large parts of Europe for several days.

Reactor is still secure

Fighting around the plant led to a fire in a training center on the grounds.
Fighting around the plant led to a fire in a training center on the grounds.  © IMAGO / Cover-Images

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said early Friday it was aware of the reports and was in 24/7 full response mode due to the situation.

Essential equipment has not been affected, and the plant's personnel are taking "mitigatory actions," the IAEA tweeted, citing Ukrainian authorities. The nuclear agency earlier said Ukraine's nuclear regulator reported no change in radiation levels at the site.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi appealed for a halt to the use of force and warned of "severe danger" if reactors are hit, the agency tweeted.

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According to the Ukrainian authorities, the fire broke out in a training center at the nuclear plant. Currently, only the fourth unit of the nuclear power plant is in operation.

Russia had earlier told the IAEA that its units took control of the area around the nuclear power plant. The IAEA understands this as meaning that Russia has control of the plant, but operations are still being carried out by Ukrainian staff under the supervision of authorities in Kyiv.

US President Joe Biden demanded Russia halt its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders access to the site. He had spoken to Zelensky by phone to receive an update on the fire, the White House said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a statement after speaking to Zelensky. Johnson said the "reckless actions" of Russian President Vladimir Putin could "directly threaten the safety of all of Europe" and that he would be requesting an emergency UN Security Council meeting in the coming hours.

On Thursday, the IAEA condemned the Russian military taking over Ukrainian nuclear plants, in a vote that saw only Russia and China voting against.

The resolution stated that the risk of a nuclear accident with international repercussions had increased substantially in the wake of the Russian invasion.

Cover photo: IMAGO / Ukrinform

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