Nuclear plant came close to ‘radiation disaster’, says Zelenskiy, amid calls for urgent UN visit | Ukraine

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said the world narrowly avoided a “radiation disaster” as the last regular line supplying electricity to the Russian-owned Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant was restored hours after it was cut off by shelling.

The Ukrainian president said officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, should be given urgent access to the site.

Zelenskiy blamed Thursday’s shelling by the Russian military for fires in the ash pits of a nearby coal-fired power station that disconnected the reactor complex, Europe’s largest such facility, from the grid. He said backup diesel generators provided power and kept the plant safe.

“Had our station staff not responded after the blackout, we would already have been forced to overcome the effects of a radiation accident,” he said in an evening speech. “Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation that is one step away from a radiation disaster.”

IAEA officials must gain access to the site within days, he said, “before the occupiers bring the situation to the point of no return”.

Negotiations are underway to allow the UN nuclear watchdog to visit the site, and Ukraine’s top official told the Guardian that IAEA inspectors could arrive by the end of the month.

Until then, the ongoing battle is endangering the factory, and possibly much of Europe. A nuclear accident could spread radiation far across the continent.

Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear company Energoatom said Thursday’s incident was the first complete disconnection from the plant in its nearly 40-year operation. Electricity is used for cooling and safety systems.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, took over the factory in March and has monitored it ever since, although Ukrainian technicians still operate it.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the site, fueling fears of a nuclear disaster. The White House called on Russia to agree to a demilitarized zone around the factory after Joe Biden spoke with Zelenskiy on Thursday.

The US State Department also warned Russia against diverting energy from the site.

“The electricity it produces is rightfully owned by Ukraine and any attempt to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and divert it to occupied territories is unacceptable,” spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters. “No country should turn a nuclear power plant into an active war zone and we oppose any Russian attempt to arm or divert energy from the plant.”

The IAEA said Ukraine had informed it that the plant had temporarily disconnected, “underscoring the urgent need for an IAEA expert mission to travel to the facility”.

“We cannot afford to lose any more time. I am determined to personally lead an IAEA mission to the factory in the coming days,” said the organization’s director-general Rafael Grossi.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the occupied city of Enerhodar near the factory, writes on Telegram that satellite photos showed the local forest in flames. He said towns in the area were without power for several hours on Thursday.

“This was caused by the disconnection of power lines from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant as a result of provocations by Zelenskiy’s fighters,” Rogov claimed. “The disconnection itself was caused by a fire and short circuit on the power lines.”

Nuclear experts have warned of the risk of damage to the nuclear fuel pools or reactors at the plant. Cuts in the power needed to cool the pools could cause a disastrous meltdown.

There are growing international concerns about safety at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. It has been occupied by Russian troops since the beginning of the war and they now use it to house military vehicles and equipment.

The complex supplied more than 20% of Ukraine’s electricity needs and its loss would put new pressure on the government.

The head of Energoatom’s told the Guardian on Wednesday that Russian engineers had drawn up a blueprint to permanently disconnect the plant from the national grid and connect it to the Russian grid instead. Petro Kotin said the plan was ostensibly aimed at preserving power to the plant if fighting was to cut off all connections to Ukraine, as was the case on Thursday. But Ukraine fears that Russia is deliberately breaking its borders.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have found themselves in a relative stalemate in recent months, in part after the west delivered new long-range missiles that hampered Russia’s supply lines and ability to continue its offensives. Ukraine also says it does not have the weapons necessary to launch a decisive counteroffensive.

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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