Ukraine can strike Russian targets around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant because it is built to withstand terror attacks, a western official said yesterday , amid fears of a disaster on the scale of Chernobyl.
Kremlin forces have transformed the facility, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, into a “safe zone” in recent weeks.
They have used it to launch artillery fire at targets in Ukrainian-held territories on the western bank of the Dnipro river, with little chance of return fire.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog has warned that Russian occupation of the power plant is “completely out of control” and there was a serious risk of triggering an emergency like the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.
With Russian equipment, including highly combustible ammunition, stored in its engine rooms, analysts believe Moscow is using the threat of a nuclear meltdown at the site to deter future donations of heavy weaponry by Ukraine’s western allies.
However, in a briefing, the western official said Ukraine need not be deterred from striking Russian targets in the area, as the nuclear power station was built to withstand heavy attacks.
“Ukraine will consider very carefully how to avoid taking major risks around the site,” the source said.
“But I would bear in mind that nuclear power plants are designed to withstand terrorist attacks, including aircrafts hitting reactors.
“Please don’t think we’re looking at a Chernobyl-like situation... that’s not the case,” they added.
Kyiv last month used US-supplied kamikaze drones to strike Russian weapons and troops sheltering between the plant’s cooling towers, some 137 metres from a reactor.
The Zaporizhzhia plant, in the south-eastern city of Enerhodar, was captured by Russia in early March, days after its forces invaded Ukraine.
Kremlin forces on the ground had hoped it could be used as a base to repel a Ukrainian counter-offensive aimed at retaking Russian-held areas in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, which is gaining momentum.
But the official insisted Kyiv’s charge into the south of the country would not be hampered by the Russian’s entrenched position at the plant. “It could always be surrounded or bypassed by Ukraine,” the source added.
A Russian-installed official in Ukraine said on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had used western-supplied weapons to pummel the nuclear plant, which has two of its six reactors operating.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think-tank, said the intervention was probably designed to stoke western fears of a nuclear disaster in the hope allies downgrade their military support for Ukraine.
“Russian officials are framing Ukraine as irresponsibly using western-provided weapons and risking nuclear disaster to dissuade western and other allied states from providing additional support to Ukraine’s looming southern counter-offensive,” the ISW said. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited