The United Nations chief has called for an immediate end to all military activity around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, as Moscow and Kyiv blamed each other for renewed shelling.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Thursday that any damage could lead to “catastrophic consequences” in the region and beyond.
The statement came before a UN Security Council meeting on the situation. It was called by Russia to discuss what Moscow claims were Ukrainian attacks on the plant.
“I have appealed to all concerned to exercise common sense and reason and not to undertake any actions that might endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the nuclear plant the largest of its kind in Europe,” Guterres said.
“Regrettably, instead of de-escalation, over the past several days there have been reports of further deeply worrying incidents that could, if they continue, lead to disaster,” he added.
“Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia or any other nuclear facilities in Ukraine, or anywhere else, could lead to catastrophic consequences.”
— United Nations (@UN) August 11, 2022
UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi, who said in an interview last week with The Associated Press that the situation at the plant “is completely out of control,” is expected to brief the Security Council.
Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warned that the situation was getting more perilous every day at Zaporizhzhia, located in the city of Enerhodar which Russian troops seized in early March, soon after their February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
While the plant is controlled by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to run the nuclear operations.
Plant shelled again
The warnings on Thursday came as both sides accused each other of shelling the plant again.
The Ukrainian state company operating the plant reported renewed Russian shelling of the facility and nearby buildings.
“Five (hits) were recorded near the plant management’s office, right next to the welding site and the storage facility for radiation sources,” Energoatom said in a post on its official Telegram channel. “The grass caught fire over a small area, but fortunately, no one was hurt.”
Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, said Ukrainian forces “once again struck” the plant, on messaging app Telegram.
Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of attacking the plant and has urged Western powers to force a stop to Kyiv’s military action.
“Shelling of the territory of the nuclear plant by the Ukrainian armed forces is highly dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday. “It’s fraught with catastrophic consequences for vast territories, for the entire Europe.”
‘More catastrophic than Chernobyl’
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told defence leaders at a conference in Copenhagen on Thursday that “Russia could cause the largest radiation accident in history at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.”
The Russian capture of Zaporizhzhia renewed fears that the largest of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors could be damaged, setting off another emergency like the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, which happened about 110 kilometres (65 miles) north of the capital Kyiv.
Zelenskyy said the consequences of a radiation accident at Zaporizhzhia “could be even more catastrophic than Chernobyl, and essentially the same as the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, but without a nuclear strike”.
The Moscow-installed temporary head of the Zaporizhzhia region said Thursday the Russia-backed administration there stood ready to ensure the safety of any IAEA delegation sent to investigate conditions.
“We are fully ready to accept the IAEA, we will ensure security,” Yevhen Balytskyy said in an interview on Russian state TV. He added that the Kremlin-backed authorities had prepared armoured vehicles for the international envoys.
Grossi said in a statement on Wednesday that he would personally lead an expert mission to inspect the nuclear plant “in the very near future,” without elaborating on the timeline.