Ukraine and Russia are accusing each other of shelling the largest nuclear energy site in Europe, the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in the south of the country. The incident is increasing the alarm that a nuclear disaster could be among the collateral damage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Yesterday evening, August 6th, 2022, the Russian occupiers once again fired rockets at the site of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and the town of Enerhodar,” Energoatom, the Ukrainian state nuclear company that runs the plant said in a press release.
The company said the shelling was aimed at casks of spent fuel, stored in the open air on the site of the nuclear plant. It also said that three radiation monitors around the site were destroyed, putting the population at risk for undetected radiation leaks: “timely detection and response in case of aggravation of the radiation situation or leakage of radiation from spent nuclear fuel casks are currently impossible.”
Windows were also broken, and a worker was wounded by shrapnel.
The plant lies in Russian-occupied territory and is controlled by Russian forces, though Ukrainian technicians still operate the facility. Russia is blaming Ukraine for attacking the nuclear station, using a 220-mm Uragan multiple rocket launcher system, according to Reuters.
The plant was also shelled on Friday, August 5th, and endured a high-voltage power line hit that caused the plant to unload and disconnect one of the operating units from the grid.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the shelling showed a high risk of nuclear disaster and called it “the latest in a long line of increasingly alarming reports” showing that “every principle of safety has been violated one way or the other.”
The Straits Times reports that the IAEA has been trying to inspect the site for weeks, a move Ukraine opposes since it would appear to legitimise the Russian occupation of the site. It also reports that in May, Russia had threatened to cut Ukraine off from the nuclear plant, which produces 20% of the country’s electricity, unless Ukraine paid Russia for the electricity produced there.
According to Ukraine, Russian military and Russian personnel from the nuclear operator Rosatom took shelter before the attack, leaving Ukrainian personnel exposed to the strikes.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesky called for repercussions on Russia in response to the attack.
“There is no such nation in the world that can feel safe when a terrorist state fires at a nuclear plant. God forbid, if something irreparable happens, no one will stop the wind that will spread the radioactive contamination,” he said in his August 7th address to the country. “Therefore, a principled response of the international community to these Russian attacks on the Zaporizhzhya NPP—the largest in Europe—is needed right now.”
On Twitter, he called for sanctions “on the Russian nuclear industry and nuclear fuel.”
He also said that he had spoken to Charles Michel, president of the council about the attacks on the nuclear site.
The European Union took Ukraine’s side on Saturday, blaming Russia for the shelling.
“The EU condemns Russia’s military activities around #Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, wrote on Twitter. “This is a serious and irresponsible breach of nuclear safety rules and another example of Russia’s disregard for international norms.”