UKRAINE: Ukraine announced that a reactor at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant, Zaporizhzhia, was shut down by fresh Russian shelling on Thursday just before a U.N. team of nuclear experts was due to visit the site. Meanwhile, Moscow claimed that it had thwarted Ukrainian plans to overtake the plant.
Both sides of the conflict have traded accusations of sabotaging the visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, which is currently operated by Ukrainian staff but controlled by Russian troops stationed there.
Reuters reported that in the Russian-occupied Enerhodar region, a residential building was struck by shelling, forcing frantic residents to take cover in a basement. However, it was not possible to conclude the perpetrator of the attack. Soldiers were out on the streets while helicopters flew overhead.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has come under intense military attacks from both sides of the conflict, as fresh and renewed shelling of nearby towns by both Russia and Ukraine continue to raise alarms of a potential radiation “catastrophe”.
Earlier, before the visit to the plant, the expert team told reporters that despite the existence of “increased military activity in the area”, the plan would be uninterrupted and the investigation will be conducted.
“Having come so far, we are not stopping,” said the director general of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, who is personally heading the mission. Shortly after, operator Energoatom announced the shutdown of one of only two operational reactors at the plant.
Energoatom wrote on Telegram, “As a result of another mortar shelling by Russian … forces at the site of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the emergency protection was activated and the operational fifth power unit was shut down.”
“Power unit No. 6 continues to work in the energy system of Ukraine” and is supplying electricity for the power plant’s own needs, it said.
Meanwhile, Russia accused Ukraine of both shelling the plant and the assembly point of the IAEA delegation to cause disruptions in the team’s mission to investigate.
Russia’s defence ministry confirmed that 60 Ukrainian troops had crossed the Dnipro river, which divides territory held by the two sides, in boats at 6:00 a.m. local time (0300 GMT), to send a message of “provocation” ahead of the IAEA visit.
The ministry also said that “measures had been taken” to destroy the opposing troops, including the use of military aviation. Grossi said on Wednesday that the mission was planned “to prevent a nuclear accident”.
Earlier in the day, the Russian-installed officials had suggested that the U.N. expert team would only be allowed a day to inspect the plant, despite Grossi’s intentions to spend a few days for proper inspection.
“If we can establish a permanent presence or a continued presence, then it’s going to be prolonged. But this first segment is going to take a few days,” Grossi said.
Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the Zaporizhzhia region, said Russian troops had blasted the route that the IAEA mission planned to use to reach the power station.
The world looks on as the team embarks on the perilous journey of inspecting a huge nuclear plant, whose damage is imminent by the day, provoking fears of a large-scale Chornobyl-like disaster.