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Energy chief says shelling threatens ‘nuclear disaster’ at Ukraine plant

The international atomic energy chief says the fighting around Europe’s largest nuclear plant has the potential to trigger a nuclear disaster.

 

August 6, 2022
6 August 2022

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has raised grave concerns about shelling at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine, as its military said Russian forces had attacked dozens of front-line towns.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what President Vladimir Putin termed a “special military operation”, the conflict has settled into a war of attrition fought largely in Ukraine’s east and south.

But the fighting over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in the south, captured by Russian forces in the opening stage of the war but still run by Ukrainian technicians, has raised the prospect of a wider disaster.

“I’m extremely concerned by the shelling yesterday at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster,” IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi said.

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

Experts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War said they believe Russia is shelling the area intentionally, “putting Ukraine in a difficult position”.

The Ukrainian company operating the nuclear power station said Saturday that Russian troops were using the plant’s basement to hide from Ukrainian shelling and have barred its Ukrainian staff from going there.

Both sides have accused each other of engaging in “nuclear terrorism”.

Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom blamed Russia for the damage while Russia’s defence ministry accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the plant.

The US has accused Russia of using it as a “nuclear shield” while Russia’s defence ministry said damage to the plant had only been avoided thanks to the “skilful, competent and effective actions” of its units.

A rescue worker stands on the roof of a house damaged by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on Friday. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Grossi, who leads the UN’s nuclear watchdog, urged all sides to exercise the “utmost restraint”.

Shells hit a high-voltage power line on Friday at the facility, prompting its operators to disconnect a reactor despite no radioactive leak being detected.

While the world’s attention was focused on the nuclear plant, the war was grinding on in the east and south.

Russia is trying to gain control of the largely Russian-speaking Donbas region in the east, comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.

Ukrainian soldier keeps watch outside his tent during a period of relative calm around his position near Sloviansk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine on Friday. (David Goldman/AP)

Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russian forces had shelled dozens of front-line towns and were trying to attack in six different areas in the Donetsk region, all of which failed to gain any territory and were held back by Ukrainian forces.

The assertions about battlefield developments could not be verified.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday that over the past week its forces had “achieved powerful results” in destroying Russia’s logistics supplies and rear bases.

“Every strike on the enemy’s ammunition depots, on their command posts, and on accumulations of Russian equipment saves the lives of all of us, the lives of Ukrainian military and civilians,” he said in a late-night video address.

British military intelligence said earlier that Russian forces were almost certainly amassing in the south, anticipating a counter-offensive or in preparation for an assault, and the war was about to enter a new phase, with most fighting shifting to a nearly 350km front from near Zaporizhzhia to Kherson, parallel to the Dnieper River.

Ukraine’s forces were focusing on hitting bridges, ammunition depots, and rail links with growing frequency in its southern regions, including the strategically important railway spur that links Kherson to Russian-occupied Crimea, it said.

The cargo ship Razoni, with a shipment of Ukrainian grain bound for Lebanon, in the Black Sea off Istanbul on Wednesday. (Emrah Gurel/AP)

In a positive development, Ukraine is starting to resume grain exports, easing fears of a global food crisis, in an effort overseen by a Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel are working.

Following uproar over a human rights report by the group Amnesty International, which accused Ukraine’s armed forces of endangering civilians by basing troops in residential areas during the invasion, the head of its Ukraine office quit saying she had opposed its publication.

The Amnesty report drew fierce criticism from the Ukrainian government with Zelenskiy leading denunciations, accusing the group of “trying to shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim”.

An Amnesty spokesman said it was sorry to see the head of its Ukraine office leave and the group was preparing a further statement on the contentious report.

Ukrainian officials say they take every possible measure to evacuate civilians from front-line areas. Russia denies targeting civilians in what it describes as a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

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