Tensions remain high in and around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as international investigators prepared to inspect the endangered facility. It comes as renewed shelling was reported Saturday around the facility.
Both Russia and Ukraine have accused its forces of firing artillery shells at Europe’s largest nuclear plant. The state-run energy operator Energoatom said Saturday Russian troops had “repeatedly shelled” the site over the past day.
In countering the claims, Russia’s defense ministry said Ukrainian forces “shelled the territory of the station three times” in the past day. “A total of 17 shells were fired,” the ministry said in a communique.
A team from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, is expected to send a mission soon to inspect the power station. Officials are concerned about the potential risk of a radioactive leak if certain sections of the nuclear complex are hit by weapons fire.
The Zaporizhzhia facility was seized by Russian troops in the opening weeks of the February invasion and has remained on the front line ever since. The power plant is being operated by Ukrainian workers. The operator of the plant also accused Russian soldiers of torturing workers. Moscow said it supports the work of the IAEA but is refusing to withdraw its soldiers from the plant to create a demilitarized zone.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the situation around the Zaporizhzhia plant remains “very precarious and dangerous” after the plant resumed electricity supplies to Ukraine following an outage. The plant was disconnected from the electric grid for the first time in its history Thursday after a fire caused by shelling damaged a power line.
Zelenskyy said in his address, “Any actions by Russia that could trigger the shutdown of the reactors will once again put the station one step away from disaster.”
The plant needs power to run the reactors’ cooling system, and any extended power failure could put the plant in jeopardy of a meltdown.
The power outage at the plant heightened dread of a nuclear disaster in a country still haunted by the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl.
An engineer working under Russian occupation since March 4 at the nuclear power plant has told VOA that Russian forces have placed artillery and missile installations within and around the property of the plant.
The engineer, whose identity is being withheld for fear of retaliation by the occupying authorities, supports Ukrainian government claims that Russia itself is responsible for the explosions.
In other developments, fighting continues to rage in the south and eastern sections of Ukraine. Ukraine said its troops had repulsed Russian assaults on the towns of Bakhmut and Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region, and they also struck ammunition depots and enemy personnel in the southern Kherson region. Reports of the assault could not be independently confirmed.
Meanwhile, Ukraine accused Russia of preparing to hold referendums in areas it occupies over whether to join Russia. Ukrainian officials have called the possible vote “a sham.” Ukraine’s security and defense council said anyone who helps to organize Russian referendums will be tried in court and could be sentenced to death.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press and Reuters.