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4 Mar, 2022 05:24

Western leaders react to Ukraine nuclear plant incident

The US and UK leaders have condemned the ‘Russian attack’ alleged by Kiev
Western leaders react to Ukraine nuclear plant incident

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has informed the US and UK leaders of an incident at the country’s largest nuclear facility, accusing Russian forces of shelling, causing a fire and triggering fears of a meltdown.

The White House confirmed that President Joe Biden had been in touch with his Ukrainian counterpart late on Thursday night, noting that he was updated on the situation at the Zaporozhskaya Nuclear Power Plant following the fire incident. It added that Biden was also in touch with the US National Nuclear Security Administration, an agency of the Energy Department.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, meanwhile, said she spoke with Ukraine’s energy minister about the Zaporozhskaya facility, stating that “Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease.”

“[The Department of Energy] has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team and is monitoring events in consultation with [the Pentagon], [the Nuclear Regulatory Commission] and the White House,” she said, though added that “no elevated radiation readings” had been detected near the plant, and that its reactors are “protected by robust containment structures and… are being safely shut down.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a similar discussion with Zelensky, according to Downing Street.

“Both leaders agreed that Russia must immediately cease its attack on the power station and allow unfettered access for emergency services to the plant,” a readout of the call said, with the PM adding the incident could “directly threaten the safety of all of Europe.”

Ukraine’s State Emergency Service earlier issued an update on Telegram stating that the blaze had actually erupted in a “training building” adjacent to the nuclear site, not the facility’s reactor buildings.

While it said firefighters were initially unable to respond due to ongoing firefight, they were ultimately able to contain the blaze. It was extinguished within hours.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the United Nations nuclear watchdog – confirmed that no “essential equipment” had been damaged at the plant, and said there has been “no change reported in radiation levels,” citing Ukrainian officials.

Kiev previously stated that Russian munitions had targeted the facility, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accusing Moscow of launching strikes “from all sides” while warning of a disastrous meltdown.

“If [the plant] blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chernobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!” he said in a tweet. 

Earlier this week, Russia informed the IAEA that it had captured the area surrounding the Zaporozhskaya plant, though at the time it was unclear whether it had taken control of the facility itself. The watchdog relayed claims from Ukrainian officials on Thursday that Russian forces had broken through defenses in the nearby town of Enerhodar and were advancing on the nuclear site.

Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine last week, claiming the invasion aimed to “demilitarize” and “denazify” the government in Kiev and to prevent what it described as “genocide” in the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Ukraine has accused Russia of an unprovoked attack, with the US and its NATO allies following suit. The West has since imposed a wave of sanctions in retaliation and approved a flurry of weapons shipments to Ukraine’s armed forces.