Russia and Ukraine trade claims of nuclear plant attacks

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Russia And Ukraine Trade Claims Of Nuclear Plant Attacks Russia And Ukraine Trade Claims Of Nuclear Plant Attacks
Composite of satellite images of smoke rising from fires at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant last week
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By Yesica Fisch, Associated Press

Russia and Ukraine traded claims of rocket and artillery strikes at or near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Sunday, intensifying fears that the fighting could damage the facility and cause a massive radiation leak.

Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant soon after the war began and hold adjacent territory along the left bank of the Dnieper River.

Ukraine controls the right bank, including the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, each about six miles (10km) from the facility.

Ukraine’s atomic energy agency painted an ominous picture of the threat on Sunday by issuing a map forecasting where radiation could spread from the plant.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had shelled the plant twice over the past day and that some shells had fallen near buildings storing reactor fuel and radioactive waste.

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Ukrainian servicemen ride on an armoured vehicle in Donetsk region (Leo Correa/AP)

“One projectile fell in the area of the sixth power unit, and the other five in front of the sixth unit pumping station, which provides cooling for this reactor,” Mr Konashenkov said, adding that radiation levels were normal.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency also reported Sunday that radiation levels were normal, that two of the Zaporizhzhia plant’s six reactors were operating and that while no complete assessment had yet been made, recent fighting had damaged a water pipeline, since repaired.

In another apparent attack on Sunday, Russian forces shot down an armed Ukrainian drone targeting one of the Zaporizhzhia plant’s spent fuel storage sites, a local official said.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed regional official, said on the Telegram messaging app that the drone had crashed onto a building’s roof, not causing any significant damage nor injuring anyone.

Meanwhile, heavy firing during the night left parts of Nikopol without electricity, Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said.


Rocket strikes damaged about a dozen residences in Marhanets, according to Yevhen Yevtushenko, the administration head for the district that includes the city of about 45,000.

The city of Zaporizhzhia, about 25 miles (40km) up the Dnieper River from the nuclear plant, also came under Russian fire during the night, damaging dozens of apartment buildings and homes and wounding two people, city council member Anatoliy Kurtev said.

Russian forces struck a Zaporizhzhia repair shop for Ukrainian air force helicopters, Mr Konashenkov said.

The claims from both sides could not be independently verified.

Downriver from the nuclear plant, Ukrainian rockets hit the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant and adjacent city three times on Sunday, Vladimir Leontyev, the head of the Russia-installed local administration, said.


Workers drain water from a crater caused by an explosion that damaged a residential building following a Russian attack in Slovyansk, Ukraine (Leo Correa/AP)

The plant’s dam is a major roadway across the river and a potentially key Russian supply route. The dam forms a reservoir that provides water for the Zaporizhzhia plant.

The radiation map Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom issued showed that based on wind forecasts for Monday, a nuclear cloud could spread across southern Ukraine and southwestern Russia.

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Release of the map may have been meant to warn that if Russian forces were responsible for a radiation leak, their own country would suffer.

In the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, the world’s worst atomic energy catastrophe, radiation spread from Ukraine to several neighbouring countries.

In eastern Ukraine, where Russian and separatist forces are trying to take control, shelling hit the large and strategically significant cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, with no casualties reported, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Donetsk region governor, said.

Mr Konashenkov said Russian missile strikes killed 250 Ukrainian soldiers and reservists in and near Sloviansk. Ukrainian officials did not comment on the claim, in keeping with their policy of not discussing losses.

Russian and separatist forces hold much of the Donetsk region, one of two Russia has recognised as sovereign states.


A view of a crater from a night Russian rocket attack near damaged buildings in Kharkiv (Andrii Marienko/AP)

Last week, authorities began distributing iodine tablets to residents who live near the Zaporizhzhia plant in case of radiation exposure.

Much of the concern centres on the cooling systems for the plant’s nuclear reactors. The systems require electricity, and the plant was temporarily knocked offline on Thursday because of what officials said was fire damage to a transmission line. A cooling system failure could cause a nuclear meltdown.

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Periodic shelling has damaged the power station’s infrastructure, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator, Energoatom, said on Saturday.

“There are risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and the fire hazard is high,” it said.

The UN’s atomic energy agency has tried to work out an agreement with Ukrainian and Russian authorities to send a team to inspect and secure the plant, but it remained unclear when the visit might take place.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed again on Sunday to re-take the separatist areas.

“The invaders brought degradation and death and they believe that they are there forever,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

“But it’s a temporary thing for them. Ukraine will return. For sure. Life will return.”

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