Zaporizhzhia: World ‘one step away’ from nuclear accident in Ukraine, says Zelensky
he world was “one step away” from a radiation disaster after electricity to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was cut for hours, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.
Mr Zelensky said Russian shelling on Thursday sparked fires in a nearby coal power station that disconnected Europe’s largest such facility from the power grid.
Back-up diesel generators kicked in to provide power supply that is vital for cooling and safety systems at the plant, he said.
He praised Ukrainian technicians who operate the plant under the gaze of the Russian military.
“If our station staff had not reacted after the blackout, then we would have already been forced to overcome the consequences of a radiation accident,” Mr Zelensky said in an evening address.
“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation one step away from a radiation disaster.”
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the occupied town of Enerhodar near the plant, blamed Ukraine’s armed forces for a fire in a forest near the plant. He said towns in the area lost power for several hours on Thursday.
“This was caused by the disconnection of power lines from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station as a result of provocations by Zelensky’s fighters,” Rogov wrote on Telegram. “The disconnection itself was triggered by a fire and short circuit on the power lines.”
Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said it had been the first complete disconnection in the plant, which has become a hotspot in the six-month-old war.
The United Nations is seeking access to the plant and has called for the area to be demilitarised.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials are “very, very close” to being able to visit Zaporizhzhia, agency Director-General Rafael Grossi said on Thursday.
Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the site, fuelling fears of a nuclear disaster.
Nuclear experts have warned of the risk of damage to the plant.
Paul Bracken, a national security expert and professor, told Reuters artillery shells or missiles could puncture the reactor walls and spread radiation around potentially a large area, much like the 1986 accident involving the Chornobyl reactor.
A failure at the Zaporizhzhia plant could “kill hundreds or thousands of people, and damage environmentally a far larger area reaching into Europe,” Mr Bracken said.
“Russian Roulette is a good metaphor because the Russians are spinning the chamber of the revolver, threatening to blow out the brains of the reactor all over Europe,” he said.