Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of planning an imminent attack against one of the world’s largest nuclear plants.
In a video address Tuesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alleged that information from Ukrainian intelligence officials shows the “Russian military has placed objects resembling explosives on the roof of several power units” of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant – located in southeastern Ukraine and occupied by Russian troops.
“Perhaps to simulate an attack on the plant. Perhaps they have some other scenario. But in any case, the world sees – can’t but see – that the only source of danger to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is Russia and no one else,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was no timely and large-scale response to the terrorist attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. And this may incite the Kremlin to commit new evil. It is the responsibility of everyone in the world to stop it, no one can stand aside, as radiation affects everyone.”
The “foreign objects” were placed on the roof of the plant’s third and fourth power units, according to a statement from the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces. “Their detonation should not damage power units but may create a picture of shelling from Ukraine,” the statement said.
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In Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov raised the specter of a potentially “catastrophic” provocation by the Ukrainian army at the nuclear plant, which is Europe’s largest but has its six reactors shut down. It still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.
“The situation is quite tense. There is a great threat of sabotage by the Kyiv regime, which can be catastrophic in its consequences,” Peskov said in response to a reporter’s question about the plant. He also claimed that the Kremlin was pursuing “all measures” to counter the alleged Ukrainian threat.
Over the last year, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog repeatedly expressed alarm over the possibility of a radiation catastrophe like the one at Chernobyl, where a reactor exploded in 1986.
While Russia and Ukraine regularly traded blame over shelling near the plant that caused power outages, Ukraine has alleged more recently that Moscow might try to cause a deliberate leak in an attempt to derail Kyiv’s ongoing counteroffensive in the surrounding Zaporizhzhia region.
Moscow, meanwhile, had accused the Ukrainians of “deliberate sabotage” of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, claiming Kyiv was “pursuing the goal of depriving Crimea of water.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency has officials stationed at the Russian-held plant, which is still run by its Ukrainian staff. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said his agency’s most recent inspection of the plant found no mining activities, “but we remain extremely alert.”
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“As you know, there is a lot of combat, I have been there a few weeks ago, and there is contact there very close to the plant, so we cannot relax,” Grossi said during a visit to Japan.
Grossi said he was aware of both Kyiv’s and Moscow’s claims and reiterated that “nuclear power plants should never, under any circumstances, be attacked.”
“A nuclear power plant should not be used as a military base,” he said.
Peskov’s comments came after Renat Karchaa, an adviser to Russian state nuclear company Rosenergoatom, said there was “no basis” for Zelenskyy’s claims of a plot to simulate an explosion.
“Why would we need explosives there? This is nonsense, (aimed at) maintaining tension around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,” Karchaa said.
Russian media on Tuesday cited Karchaa as saying that Ukraine’s military planned to strike the plant early Wednesday with ammunition laced with nuclear waste. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was no indication of such an attack.
In a June 30 statement, the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine said that occupying Russian forces were gradually leaving the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and Rosatom employees had been advised to evacuate by July 5.
On July 1, Zelenskyy claimed to Spanish journalists that Russia is technically ready to provoke a local explosion at the plant, leading to “the release of dangerous substances into the air.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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