Europe’s largest atomic energy plant is now under Russia’s control, according to a statement by Ukraine’s nuclear power regulatory body.
“Currently, the site of the Zaporizhzhia NPP is occupied by the military forces of the Russian Federation,” it said in a statement Friday. “The plant’s staff continues to work on power units, ensuring the stable operation of nuclear facilities,” nuclear power operator Energoatom confirmed in a statement on Telegram. “Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded among the Ukrainian defenders of the station.”
A fire caused by a Russian attack was extinguished early Friday morning, according to Ukrainian authorities who also said that “essential equipment” had not been damaged by the flames.
The fire erupted as the plant was attacked early Friday morning by an armored column of Russian soldiers, according to the mayor of a southern Ukrainian city near the station.
“No country other than Russia has ever fired on nuclear power units,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message before it had been extinguished. “This is the first time in our history. In the history of mankind. The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror.”
Mayor Dmytro Orlov of Enerhodar reported that the invaders, whom he characterized as “young men in athletic clothes and armed with Kalashnikovs,” had battled their way past Ukrainian forces, Reuters said.
A plant official confirmed in an earlier video posted to Telegram that the Russians had begun shelling the station, which is at the western edge of Enerhodar, an industrial city along the Dnieper River.
“We demand that they stop the heavy weapons fire,” spokesperson Andriy Tuz said in the video, according to the Associated Press. “There is a real threat of nuclear danger in the biggest atomic energy station in Europe.”
Tuz told Ukrainian television that one of the facility’s six reactors was on fire as a result of the shelling, the AP reported. The affected reactor was undergoing renovations and not in operation prior to the attack, he said, though there was still nuclear fuel inside of it while firefighters trying to get to the flames were being blocked by Russian gunfire. Biden urged Russia to allow emergency responders through, which they eventually did.
Ukrainian nuclear authorities told the International Atomic Energy Agency that no changes had been reported in radiation levels near the plant, which accounts for roughly one-quarter of all power generated in Ukraine.
The head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, was liaising with Ukrainian authorities shortly after the attack on the plant was first reported. The agency said Grossi was appealing to Russia to halt the shelling, warning of “severe danger” should the reactors be hit.
In a frantic Twitter statement, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba affirmed that Russian troops were firing “from all sides” at the plant, and that flames had “already broken out.”
“If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl!” he wrote, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster. “Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!”
Short after the invasion began one week ago, Russian forces captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, north of capital city Kyiv. Though experts detected a worrying increase in radiation coming from the exclusion zone shortly after the site’s facilities fell into Russian hands, they concluded there was little risk of disaster.
“This is something that’s been on my mind for months,” Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, a physicist and scientist in residence at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, said about Thursday’s shelling. “Chernobyl was a concern of mine, but Zaporizhzhia was my biggest concern. This is truly unprecedented to have a war happening in an area where there are nuclear power plants. That’s never happened before. We’re in uncharted territory.”
Dalnoki-Veress, who emphasized that there are no signs yet that Zaporizhzhia’s ability to cool its nuclear fuel has been compromised, explained that “If the reactors are off, that’s better than running. But the problem is that once it’s off, it needs to be in a state that the fuel is constantly being cooled. If you turn a reactor off, it’s not really ‘off.’ Once the reactor is turned off, it’s not like a coal burning fire where you throw water on it and that’s the end of it. There’s internal radioactivity that keeps on keeping the fuel very hot… so hot that it will evaporate water unless you cool it and circulate it. If you don’t provide cooling water to it, it starts melting itself and that’s the problem.”
Source: Yahoo! News