Nuclear disaster fears grow at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant

Nuclear disaster fears grow at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia plant
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Russia has denied shelling the plant and instead accused Ukraine’s 44th artillery brigade of launching attacks from the nearby town of Marganets. Ukraine was responsible for “a new act of nuclear terrorism,” Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement, according to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

The nuclear reactor complex was operating in “normal mode,” Yevgeniy Balitsky, the Russian-installed head of the local administration, said on Monday according to Russian news agency Interfax. Later, Moscow’s defense ministry said that the high-voltage line had been damaged, causing a power surge and forcing staff to reduce output from two of the site’s six reactors in order to “prevent disruption.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the shelling “extremely dangerous” in his daily call with reporters Monday, adding: “We expect the countries that have absolute influence on the Ukrainian leadership to use this influence in order to rule out the continuation of such shelling.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that he was “deeply concerned” by the takeover of the plant by Russian forces.

“There are credible reports,” Blinken said, “that Russia is using this plant as the equivalent of a human shield, but a nuclear shield in the sense that it’s firing on Ukrainians from around the plant and of course, the Ukrainians cannot and will not fire back lest there be a terrible accident involving a nuclear plant.”

Russian forces seized the plant in March, just over a week after the invasion began, but it is still run by its Ukrainian staff. Around 500 Russian soldiers and 50 military vehicles are at the plant, Energoatom said.

The 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near the northern Ukrainian city of Pripyat is considered the worst on record. It required the evacuation of more than 100,000 people living within 19 miles, and the resulting radiation was detected across Europe. Officially, fewer than 50 people died as a direct result of Chernobyl, but this is vigorously contested by scientists and environmental groups.

Ukrainian lawmakers have speculated that as many as 3 million people could die and 51 million be otherwise affected by radiation in the event of a serious incident involving the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

Josh Lederman reported from Kyiv, and Patrick Smith reported from London.

Reuters, Erika Angulo, Morgan Chesky and Yuliya Talmazan contributed.

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