KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia and Ukraine on Monday traded accusations that each side is bombing Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. Russia claimed Ukrainian shelling caused a power surge and fire and forced personnel to reduce power at two reactors, while Ukraine blamed Russian troops for stockpiling weapons there.
Nuclear experts have warned that further bombing of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which was captured by Russia at the start of the war, is fraught with pitfalls.
The Kremlin echoed this on Monday, saying Kyiv was attacking the factory and urging Western powers to force a halt to it.
“The shelling of the territory of the nuclear power plant by the Ukrainian armed forces is very dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “It is fraught with catastrophic consequences for vast territories, for all of Europe.”
Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov countered that Russian forces planted explosives at the plant to ward off an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive in the area. Previously, Ukrainian officials said Russia was launching attacks from the factory and using Ukrainian workers as human shields.
Yusov called on Russia to “make a gesture of goodwill and hand over control of the plant to an international commission and to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), if not to the Ukrainian army”.
Ukrainian mediator Dmytro Lubinets also urged the United Nations, the IAEA and the international community to send a delegation to “completely demilitarize the territory” and provide security guarantees for factory workers and the town where it is located. based the factory, Enerhodar.
The IAEA is the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Its chief executive, Rafael Grossi, told The Associated Press last week that the situation around the Zaporizhzhia plant “is completely out of control” and issued an urgent appeal to Russia and Ukraine to They authorize experts to visit the complex in order to stabilize the situation and avoid a nuclear accident.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced support for the idea on Monday, saying “any attack on a nuclear power plant is a suicidal thing.”
A nuclear materials expert from Imperial College London said the Zaporizhzhia reactor is modern and housed inside a heavily reinforced steel and concrete building designed to protect against disasters.
“As such, I do not believe there would be a high probability of a breach in the containment building, even if it were accidentally hit by an explosive shell, and even less likely than the reactor itself. could be damaged,” Mark Wenman told the college’s Nuclear Energy Futures.
He also said that the spent fuel tanks at the complex, where the shells were allegedly hit, are solid and probably do not contain much spent fuel.
“While this may sound worrying and any combat at a nuclear site is illegal under international law, the likelihood of a serious nuclear release is still low,” he said.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday’s attack caused a power surge and smoke, triggering an emergency shutdown. Firefighters extinguished the flames and plant personnel lowered the power of reactors No. 5 and No. 6 to 500 megawatts, he said.
And the head of the Ukrainian company operating the plant said all but one of the power lines connecting it to Ukraine’s energy system had been destroyed. Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state-owned Eherhoatom, blamed Russian bombing and said a blackout would be “very dangerous for such a nuclear facility”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the “bombing and mining” of the plant and called it “nuclear blackmail”. He called for sanctions against Moscow’s nuclear industry.
As fighting continued on the front lines, the United States pledged $1 billion in new military aid to Ukraine on Monday. This would be the largest delivery to date of rockets, ammunition and other weapons directly from US Department of Defense stockpiles for Ukrainian forces.
The latest announcement brings total U.S. security assistance committed by the Biden administration to Ukraine to $9.1 billion since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24.
Ukraine’s presidential office said the Russians had shelled seven Ukrainian regions in the past 24 hours, killing five people. Among the targets, he said, was Nikopol, just across the Dnieper River from the factory in Zaporizhzhia. Thousands of people were without electricity there.
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, Avdiivka and Lyman had become combat hotspots.
Ukrainian forces struck Russian-held areas in the south, officials said, including the strategic Antonivskiy Bridge in the southern city of Kherson. A Russian military supply artery, the bridge has been closed in recent weeks due to earlier shelling. Plans to reopen on Wednesday have been scrapped, said Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-appointed administration for the Kherson region.
Meanwhile, one of the ships that left Ukraine on Friday as part of a deal to unlock grain supplies and avert a global food crisis has arrived in Turkey, the first loaded ship to reach its destination. . The Turkish-flagged Polarnet was loaded with 12,000 tons of corn.
“This sends a message of hope to all families in the Middle East, Africa and Asia: Ukraine will not abandon you,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “If Russia fulfills its obligations, the ‘grain corridor’ will continue to maintain global food security.”
Twelve vessels have now been allowed to sail under the grain deal between Ukraine and Russia, which was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations – 10 outbound and two inbound. Some 322,000 tonnes of agricultural products left Ukrainian ports, mostly corn but also sunflower oil and soybeans.
Four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday were due to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening to be inspected to ensure they were carrying only food.
The first freighter to leave Ukraine, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, which left Odessa on August 1, however, encountered a problem with the delivery. It was heading for Lebanon with 26,000 tons of maize for chicken feed, but the maize buyer in Lebanon refused to accept the shipment as it was delivered much later than its contract, the official said. Embassy of Ukraine in Beirut.
Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut, Mehmet Guzel in Derince, Turkey, and Andrew Wilks in Istanbul contributed.
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