DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine – Ukrainian officials have been alarming for months. The world’s nuclear watchdog warned of the extraordinary risks this week. On Friday, artillery duels at a massive nuclear power plant on the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine raised new security risks.
Explosions in and around the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power complex at about 2:30 p.m. destroyed electrical transmission lines and risked damaging the plant, forcing engineers to alter the operation of one of the six reactors by reducing its power, Ukraine’s state nuclear company , Energoatom, said.
Hours later, a second series of three explosions damaged an outbuilding near one of the nuclear reactors, increasing the risk of hydrogen leaks and fires, the company said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials blamed Russia for the attacks.
“This is the largest nuclear power plant on our continent, and any shelling of this facility is an overt, brutal crime, an act of terror,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his overnight address. “Russia should bear responsibility for posing a threat to the nuclear power plant.”
The Russian defense ministry said it was Ukrainian troops who had shelled the factory, accusing them of an act of “nuclear terrorism.”
No radiation was released after the initial explosions, the state-owned nuclear company said. But the forced change in reactor operation underlined the increasing danger.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks near the nuclear complex, which the Russian military controls and uses as a fortress, even as Ukrainian engineers continue to operate it.
For about a month, Russia has used the site to conduct artillery strikes on Ukrainian targets without fear of retaliation, as the Ukrainian military cannot fire back without risking hitting security equipment, reactors or spent fuel storage facilities. Ukrainian officials say the Russians want to disrupt a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south of the country.
After the explosions ruptured a high-voltage cable on Friday afternoon, the plant’s operators reduced the output of one of the reactors. Previously, three of the plant’s six reactors were operational, two were on standby and one was undergoing scheduled repairs.
It was not clear whether the reactor whose operation was changed on Friday was put on standby, said Dmytro Orlov, a former plant engineer who is now the mayor of Enerhodar, where the plant is located.
“This is an unusual event, but not unpredictable,” he said. “Staff was prepared.” He compared it to emergency services in the event of a power line being damaged by a wildfire or other accident.
Energoatom, the state-owned energy company, released a statement on social networking site Telegram saying that Russian artillery fire had cut the electric line. “The Russian military again resorted to provocation,” the company said. It said an industrial space on the site of the complex has been hit three times, hitting wiring and a transformer.
The statement said the operators reduced output and disconnected a reactor from the grid. “The release of radioactive materials was not recorded,” the statement said.
Hours later, the power company reported a second attack on Telegram, saying Russians had fired three rocket-propelled grenades that landed near one of the nuclear reactors. The explosions, the statement said, damaged an outbuilding and a specialized station. “The fire risk is high,” the company said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it is aware of the reports and is seeking more information about the situation.
Ukrainian officials say they have few options but to weather the Russian bombing. In July, Ukraine’s military intelligence said it had used a precision-guided “kamikaze” drone, which explodes on contact with a target, to destroy a Russian missile launcher and air defense system located about 150 meters from a reactor, without the damage the reactor. yourself.
The IAEA has warned of serious dangers from the plight of the factory. Cornerstones of nuclear safety, it said, are being knocked out of the factory even as it continues to run. One of the shortcomings is a lack of physical security and regulatory oversight, which is now in limbo.
Those concerns were reiterated on Friday by the British Ministry of Defense. In its daily intelligence update, the ministry said Russian forces “probably undermined the plant’s security by using it as a base to target Ukrainian territory on the western bank of the Dnipro River”.
Fighting around the complex in March had sparked a fire that raised global concerns about a possible nuclear accident.
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