© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant view from the town of Nikopol, during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine November 7, 2022. Mirror image. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
By Guy Faulconbridge and Maria Starkova
LONDON/LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has warned that whoever fired a nuclear weapon in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia is “playing with fire” as his team prepares to inspect on Monday the damage caused last week. .
The attack on Europe’s largest nuclear plant in southern Ukraine came as fighting broke out in the east, with Russian troops striking Ukrainian sites in front of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The blast at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant follows Russian military blockades in the southern Kherson region and a Russian response that has included missile strikes across the country, many of them electric.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said more than a dozen explosions rocked the nuclear power plant over the weekend. IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the attack was deeply disturbing and unacceptable.
“Whoever is behind this, stop immediately. As I have said many times, you are playing with fire!” Grossi said in a statement.
Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the blasts at the site, as they have repeatedly done in recent months after attacks on or near them.
Explaining the information provided by the plant management, the IAEA team on the ground said that there has been damage to some buildings, systems and equipment, but nothing that is important for nuclear safety and security.
The panel plans to conduct an inspection on Monday, Grossi said, but Russian nuclear power operator Rosenergoatom said there will be restrictions the panel will look at.
“If they want to look at an area that has nothing to do with nuclear security, the opportunity will be denied,” Renat Karchaa, adviser to the CEO of Rosenergoatom, told the Tass news agency.
Repeated explosions at the plant have raised concerns about a catastrophic accident that occurred 500 kilometers (300 miles) from the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.
The Zaporizhzhia plant supplied a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before the Russian invasion, and has been forced to use backup generators several times. It has six Soviet-made VVER-1000 V-320 water-cooled and water-controlled engines with 235.
The reactors are shut down but there is a risk that the nuclear fuel could burn if the power to run the cooling system is cut. Bullets have repeatedly cut power lines.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine had fired missiles at the power plant, but Ukraine’s nuclear power company Energoatom accused the Russian military of bombing the site, saying the Russians had focused on restarting parts of the plant in an attempt to reduce Ukraine’s power output. .
UNDER RUSSIAN FIRE
In eastern Ukraine, Russian troops hit Ukrainian front-line artillery with artillery, with the deadliest attack in the Donetsk region, Zelenskiy said in a video address.
Russia withdrew its troops from the southern city of Kherson this month and moved some of them to strengthen positions in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, an industrial region known as the Donbas.
“The most dangerous battles, as before, are in the Donetsk region. Although today there were fewer attacks due to the worsening of the weather, the number of Russian shells unfortunately remains very high,” said Zelenskiy.
“In the area of Luhansk, we are making progress slowly as we fight. As of now, there have been about 400 weapons in the east since the beginning of the day,” he said.
Zelenskiy also said the South’s military was “constantly and unquestionably destroying the capabilities of the people living there” but did not elaborate.
The city of Kherson has no electricity, running water or heating.
Ukraine said on Saturday that at least 60 Russian soldiers were killed in a long-running offensive in the south, the second time in four days that Ukraine has said it has killed more people in a single incident.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that 50 Ukrainian soldiers were killed yesterday in southern Donetsk and 50 elsewhere.
Reuters could not immediately confirm any of the military reports.
Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation” to demobilize and “protest” its neighbor, although Kyiv and its allies say the invasion is an unprovoked war.
Oleh Zhdanov, a military expert in Kyiv, said that according to his sources, the Russian offensive was taking place in front of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in Donetsk region, among others.
“The enemy is trying to break through our defenses, to no avail,” Zhdanov said in a televised address. “We are struggling – they are suffering a lot.”