KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia and Ukraine accused each side Monday of firing on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. Russia has claimed that Ukrainian shelling caused power surges and fires, forcing workers to cut output from two reactors, while Ukraine has blamed the Russian military for stockpiling weapons there.
Nuclear experts have warned that further strikes on the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which was seized by Russia at the start of the war, are fraught with danger.
The Kremlin echoed that on Monday, claiming it was attacking the Kyiv plant and forcing Western powers to stop it.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “Firing by the Ukrainian armed forces on the site of the nuclear plant is extremely dangerous.” “It is fraught with catastrophic consequences for the whole of Europe, for vast regions.”
Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence service, countered that Russian forces planted explosives at the plant to set off an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region. Earlier, Ukrainian officials said Russia was launching attacks from the plant and using Ukrainian workers there as human shields.
Yusov called on Russia to “in good faith hand over control of the plant to the International Commission and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), if not to the Ukrainian military.”
Ukraine’s ombudsman, Dmytro Lubinets, similarly urged the United Nations, the IAEA and the international community to send a delegation to “completely demilitarize the region” and guarantee the safety of the plant’s employees and Enerhöder, the city where the plant is based.
The IAEA is the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Its director-general, Raphael Grossi, told The Associated Press last week that the situation around the Zaporizhia plant was “totally out of control,” and urged Russia and Ukraine to allow experts to visit the complex to stabilize the situation and prevent a nuclear accident.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday backed the idea, saying “any attack on a nuclear plant would be suicidal.”
An expert in nuclear materials at Imperial College London said the reactor at Zaporizhia is modern and housed in a heavily reinforced steel-and-concrete building designed to protect against disasters.
“Thus, I don’t believe the containment building would be more likely to be breached, even if it were accidentally hit by an explosive shell, and the reactor itself would be less likely to be damaged,” Mark Weinman said. College Nuclear Energy Futures.
He also said that the complex’s spent fuel tanks, where the shells allegedly hit, are robust and may not contain much spent fuel.
“Although this sounds alarming, and any fighting at a nuclear site would be illegal under international law, the likelihood of a serious nuclear release is low,” he said.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday’s attack triggered an emergency shutdown due to power surges and smoke. Firefighters extinguished the flames and plant crews reduced the output of reactors No. 5 and No. 6 to 500 megawatts.
And the head of the Ukrainian company that runs the plant said all but one power line connecting to Ukraine’s power system had been destroyed. Petro Kotin, the head of the Ukrainian state corporation Eherhotom, blamed the Russian shooting, saying the blackout “would be very vulnerable to such a nuclear facility.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the “shelling and mining” of the plant, calling it “nuclear blackmail”. They demanded restrictions on Moscow’s nuclear industry.
As fighting continues on the front lines, the United States on Monday pledged another $1 billion in new military aid to Ukraine. This will be the largest delivery of rockets, ammunition and other weapons to the Ukrainian military directly from US Department of Defense stocks.
The latest announcement brings to $9.1 billion the total US security aid provided by the Biden administration to Ukraine since the February 24 invasion by Russian forces.
Ukraine’s presidential office said the Russians had shelled seven Ukrainian territories in the past 24 hours, killing five people. Nikopol is said to be across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhia plant. There were thousands of people without electricity.
Russian rockets and artillery also hit the Sumy region, killing one person, and the Ukrainian governor of eastern Donetsk region said the towns of Bakhmut, Avdivka and Lyman had emerged as fighting hotspots.
Ukrainian forces attacked Russian-held areas in the south, officials there said, including the strategic Antonievsky Bridge in the southern city of Kherson. An artery for Russian military supplies, the bridge has been closed in recent weeks due to previous shelling. Plans to reopen it on Wednesday have now been scrapped, said Kirill Stremosov, deputy head of the Moscow-appointed administration of the Kherson region.
Meanwhile, one of the ships that left Ukraine on Friday arrived in Turkey, the first to reach its destination under a deal to unblock grain supplies and avert a global food crisis. The Turkish-flagged Polarnet was loaded with 12,000 tons of corn.
“This sends a message of hope to every family in the Middle East, Africa and Asia: Ukraine will not leave you,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “If Russia Stands By Its Obligations, ‘Grain Corridor’ Will Maintain Global Food Security.”
Twelve ships have now been authorized to depart under the grain deal between Ukraine and Russia, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations – 10 outbound and two inbound. About 322,000 metric tons of agricultural products have left Ukrainian ports, the bulk of which is corn but also sunflower oil and soybeans.
The four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday were expected to dock near Istanbul on Monday evening for inspections to ensure they were only carrying food.
The first cargo ship to leave Ukraine, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, which left Odessa on August 1, however, ran into delivery difficulties. They were on their way to Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed but the buyer of the corn in Lebanon refused to accept the cargo, saying it was delivered much later than his contract, the Embassy of Ukraine in Beirut said.
Karim Cheheb in Beirut, Mehmet Guzel in Derins, Turkey, and Andrew Wilkes in Istanbul contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine