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Safety fear as Russian-held nuclear plant is now ‘out of control’

UN repeats calls for inspection of site used as a shield to launch attacks on Ukrainian positions


The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Photo: Olya Soldensko

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Photo: Olya Soldensko

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Photo: Olya Soldensko

Russia is using Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to shelter from Ukrainian bombardment and launch attacks on civilians, with the United Nation’s warning the situation is now “completely out of control”.

About 500 enemy forces seized control of the Zaporizhzhia plant, in the south eastern city of Enerhodar, soon after the invasion began.

Under mounting pressure from long-range Ukrainian strikes, Vladimir Putin’s troops last month ordered the plant’s staff to surrender access to the engine rooms of three of its reactors to store scores of heavy weaponry.

Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company, Energoatom, said the ammunition had been stored close to highly combustible materials and would trigger a nuclear disaster on the same scale as Chernobyl if detonated.

Military sources also said the occupiers had made engine rooms almost inaccessible to emergency services in the event of a fire on the site.

Russian troops are now using the plant as a base to pummel Ukrainian-held positions on the West Bank of the Dnipro river.

Ukraine has no other choice but to largely accept the one-way fire, knowing its forces cannot shoot back because they could accidentally strike a nuclear reactor.

Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian puppet administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, however, yesterday accused Ukraine of using Western-supplied weapons to strike the plant.

“We are ready to show how the Russian military is guarding the plant, and how Ukraine, which receives weapons from the West, uses those weapons including drones to attack the nuclear power plant,” he said in response to multiple requests to inspect the facility.

Earlier this week, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said the Russians had taken the “notion of having a human shield to an entirely different and horrific level”.

Since capturing the plant, workers have been forced to maintain the facility under terrifying conditions and without outside support, according to Ukrainian officials.

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The Russians have also laid anti-personnel mines around the shore of the reservoir used to cool the plant’s six reactors.

Rafael Grossi, the UN’s nuclear chief, this week issued a plea to Russia and Ukraine to open up the sprawling complex to independent safety experts. He warned the situation was getting more perilous by the day.

“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated,” he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”

Reports of attacks on the plant’s workers and a lack of spares to replace “faulty” and “patchy” parts of the system only made the situation worse, Mr Grossi added.

“When you put this together, you have a catalogue of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility,” he said.

“And this is why I have been insisting from day one that we have to be able to go there to perform this safety and security evaluation, to do the repairs and to assist as we already did in Chernobyl.”

Despite warnings of a nuclear disaster, Ukraine has launched limited attacks on Russian targets near the plant.

Across the Dniper in Nikopol, hospitals keep emergency supplies of iodine to treat radiation poisoning, while its citizens flee the town to escape the shelling.

Ukraine has used its fleet of US-provided Himars rocket launchers to soften up Russian positions and sever supply lines ahead of the imminent counter-offensive to reclaim the city of Kherson.

Strikes on road and railway bridges vital to Russian resupply efforts, as well as ammunition depots, have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks.

As the Ukrainian counter-offensive gains momentum, Russia is moving entire battalion tactical groups, of up to 800 troops each, from the Donbas to defend its positions in the south.

“We are now witnessing an extensive reorganisation of the Russian posture in Ukraine that will probably impact how the conflict will unfold over the medium term,” military analysts Rochan Consulting said on Monday. 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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