- The regular power line to the Zaporizhia plant is working again
- Fires nearby had cut the electricity connection earlier in the day
- Russia says it hit a military train meant to deliver weapons
KIEV, August 26 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the world narrowly escaped a radiation catastrophe as power to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was cut for hours over Russian shelling in the region, allegations Moscow has denied.
Zelenskyi said Thursday’s Russian shelling sparked fires in the ash pits of a nearby coal-fired power plant that had unplugged the reactor complex, Europe’s largest such facility.
Backup diesel generators provided power, which is vital to cooling and security systems at the plant, he said, praising the Ukrainian technicians who operate the plant under the watchful eye of the Russian military.
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“If our station staff hadn’t reacted after the power failure, we would have already had to deal with the consequences of a radiation accident,” he said in an evening speech.
“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation one step away from a radiation catastrophe.”
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the occupied town of Enerhodar near the plant, blamed Ukrainian forces for a fire in a forest near the plant. He said towns in the region lost power for several hours on Thursday.
“This was caused by the disruption of the power lines of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant as a result of provocations by Zelenskyy’s militants,” Rogov wrote on Telegram. “The disconnection itself was triggered by a fire and a short circuit on the power lines.”
Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear company Energoatom said it was the first full disconnect at the plant, which has become a hotspot in the six-month-old war.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, seized the plant in March and has controlled it ever since, although it is still run by Ukrainian technicians.
The United Nations are seeking access to the facility and are calling for the area to be demilitarized. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials are “very, very close” to being able to visit Zaporizhia, the agency’s director-general Rafael Grossi said on Thursday.
Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the site, raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
Nuclear experts have warned of the risk of damage to spent fuel storage pools or their reactors. Power outages needed to cool the pools could cause a catastrophic meltdown.
Paul Bracken, a national safety expert and professor at the Yale School of Management, said the concern is that artillery shells or missiles could pierce the reactor walls and spread radiation over a potentially large area, similar to the 1986 Chernobyl reactor accident.
A failure at the Zaporizhia plant could “kill hundreds or thousands of people and pollute a much larger area, stretching as far as Europe,” Bracken said.
“Russian roulette is a good metaphor because the Russians are spinning the chamber of the revolver and threatening to blow up the brains of the reactor across Europe,” Bracken said.
Russia’s ground campaign has stalled in recent months after its troops were repulsed from the capital Kyiv in the first weeks of the invasion, but fighting continues on the front lines to the south and east.
Russian forces control part of territory along Ukraine’s Black Sea and Azov Sea coasts, while the conflict in the eastern Donbass region has escalated into a war of attrition.
Russia said its forces attacked a train station in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 200 Ukrainian service members, confirming an attack that killed 25 civilians, according to Kyiv, as the nation celebrated its Independence Day.
The Russian Defense Ministry said an Iskander missile hit a military train at Chaplyne railway station that was supposed to deliver weapons to Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbass region.
Ukrainian officials said civilians were killed when a house and the train station were hit and five train cars burst into flames.
Moscow denies attacking civilians and Reuters has been unable to independently verify the reports.
Ukraine’s military said on Friday its air force had launched attacks on areas of troop and weapon concentrations in two separate locations.
The report came a day after Russia’s Defense Ministry said Russian forces had destroyed eight Ukrainian warplanes in airstrikes on air bases in the Poltava and Dnepropetrovsk regions. That would be one of the heaviest losses for the Ukrainian Air Force in recent weeks.
Ukraine’s South Operations Command said its artillery hit ammunition depots and enemy personnel in the Kherson region while airstrikes were launched against enemy air defenses.
In the Donbass region, Russia’s TASS news agency reported that Ukrainian forces using a US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launcher targeted the city of Stakhanov, with about 10 rockets hitting the city before dawn on Friday, according to officials from the pro-Moscow breakaway state Lugansk.
In its morning summary of battlefield developments across the country on Friday, Ukraine’s military also said its forces repelled Russian attacks on the towns of Bakhmut and Soledar in the Donetsk region.
Kyiv has repeatedly called for more high-quality Western military equipment to repel Russian attacks.
Zelenskyy spoke by phone Thursday with US President Joe Biden, who reiterated US support for Ukraine to Russia, the White House said.
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed a decree increasing the number of Russian armed forces to 2.04 million from 1.9 million to 2.04 million, potentially adding credibility to Western estimates of heavy Russian casualties during the war. Continue reading
The Kremlin says its goal is to “denazify” and demilitarize Ukraine and eliminate perceived security threats to Russia. Ukraine and the West say this is an unfounded pretext for a war of conquest.
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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Daniel Wallis and Stephen Coates; Edited by Cynthia Osterman & Simon Cameron-Moore
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