Ukraine: Russia fires on towns near nuclear power plant

Kyiv, Ukraine –

Concerns over the possibility of a radiation leak at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant persisted as Ukrainian authorities said on Saturday that Russian forces had fired on areas just across the river and the Russia said Ukrainian shelling hit a building where nuclear fuel is stored.

Authorities were distributing iodine tablets to residents who live near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in case of radiation exposure, which can cause health problems depending on how much a person takes in.

Much of the concern centers on the plant’s nuclear reactor cooling systems. The systems need power to operate, and the plant was temporarily taken offline on Thursday due to what officials said was fire damage to a transmission line. Failure of the cooling system could cause nuclear meltdown.

Russian forces occupied the nuclear power plant complex at the start of the 6-month war in Ukraine, and Ukrainian workers kept it running. The Ukrainian and Russian governments have repeatedly accused each other of bombing the complex and nearby areas, raising fears of a possible catastrophe.

Periodic bombings have damaged the plant’s infrastructure, Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom said on Saturday. “There are risks of hydrogen leakage and spraying of radioactive substances, and the risk of fire is high,” he said.

In the latest conflicting attack reports, the governor of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, Valentyn Reznichenko, said on Saturday that Grad missiles and artillery shells hit the towns of Nikopol and Marhanets, each about 10 kilometers away ( 6 miles) and across the Dnieper River from the factory. ,

But Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukrainian forces fired at the plant from Marhanets. Over the past day, 17 Ukrainian shells hit the plant, four of which hit the roof of a building that stores nuclear fuel, he said.

It was not possible to immediately verify either account given the restrictions on journalists’ movements and the ongoing fighting.

The UN’s atomic energy agency tried to broker a deal to send a team to inspect and help secure the plant. Officials said preparations for the visit were underway, but it was still unclear when it might take place.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was essential that representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency visit the plant as soon as possible and help keep it “under permanent Ukrainian control”.

“The situation remains precarious and dangerous,” Zelenskyy said in his final evening speech. “Any repetition of the events (of Thursday), i.e. any disconnection of the plant from the network or any action by Russia which could trigger the shutdown of the reactors, will once again put the plant one step away from disaster.”

Ukraine claimed Russia was using the power plant as a shield by stockpiling weapons there and launching attacks around it. Moscow, for its part, accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing on the nuclear complex.

The dispute over the plant led Russia on Friday night to block an agreement on the outcome document of the four-week review of the UN treaty which is seen as the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament. The draft Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference document criticized Russia’s takeover of the Zaporizhzhia plant.

The deputy head of the Russian delegation said the conference had become a “political hostage” to countries trying “to settle scores with Russia by raising issues not directly related to the treaty”.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, one person was killed and another injured in Russian fire in the Mykolaiv region, local government officials said. The city of Mykolaiv is an important Black Sea port and shipbuilding center.

The governor of the eastern Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Saturday that two people were killed in Russian fire on the town of Bakhmut, a major target for Russian and separatist forces seeking to take control of parts of the region. that they do not already have. .

The British government said on Saturday it was donating underwater drones to Ukraine and training sailors to use them to clear mines from the country’s ravaged coastline. Mines laid in the Black Sea during the war have hampered Ukraine’s maritime grain exports to world markets, although a July deal has allowed shipments to resume along a single corridor.

More than one million metric tons of Ukrainian foodstuffs have been shipped since early August under the Black Sea Grains Agreement, the United Nations announced on Saturday.