UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has voiced concerns over a potential nuclear disaster at Europe’s largest nuclear power station, after Moscow accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the nuclear plant in the country’s southern Zaporozhye Region on Friday. Kiev claims that Russia is using the facility as a “shield” for its soldiers.
“Any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing. I hope that those attacks will end, and at the same time I hope that the IAEA will be able to access the plant,” Guterres said at a press conference in Tokyo on Monday morning, without blaming either side.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Saturday it was “extremely concerned” by the Friday shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant. Targeting the facility with any “military firepower” amounts to “playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” the UN nuclear watchdog’s director general, Rafael Grossi, said.
The IAEA also suggested sending a delegation to the site to “provide technical support for nuclear safety and security” and to “help prevent the situation from spiraling even more out of control.” Neither Moscow nor Kiev has reacted to the proposal so far.
The Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant in the country’s south was seized by Russian forces in late February, when Moscow launched its military campaign in Ukraine. The facility continues to operate with Ukrainian staff under Russian control.
On Friday, Moscow accused Ukrainian troops of firing artillery shells at the plant, following allegations of several attempted drone attacks over the past month. A senior non-proliferation and arms control official at the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that the attacks on the plant risk triggering an event similar to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
The Russian Defense Ministry said “parts of the equipment” at the plant were out of power due to the shelling, and a fire broke out at the facility and was quickly put out. The ministry claimed that “by sheer luck,” the Ukrainian shells did not cause a bigger fire and “a possible nuclear disaster.”
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, however, claimed that the shelling of the nuclear plant came from Russian troops themselves. On Saturday, Ukrainian media accused Moscow of another attack on the facility, claiming that a “rocket attack” damaged several radiation sensors and hurt a worker.
At the same time, officials in Kiev have been accusing Russia of using the plant as a “military base.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed last week that Moscow is using it as the “equivalent of a human shield” for its soldiers, “knowing that [the Ukrainians] can’t and won’t shoot back.” On Sunday, Zelensky urged Western governments to sanction Russia’s nuclear industry over Moscow’s supposed “nuclear terrorism.”
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