US backs Ukrainian call over nuclear plant
The US State Department on Thursday officially endorsed Ukraine’s demand for a demilitarized zone around the Zaporozhye nuclear power power plant (ZNPP), calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops that control the area.
The statement came as the UN Security Council was meeting, at Moscow’s request, to discuss the alleged Ukrainian artillery attacks on the facility, which Russia says may result in a radioactive disaster.
“Fighting near a nuclear plant is dangerous and irresponsible – and we continue to call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities and return full control to Ukraine, and support Ukrainian calls for a demilitarized zone around the nuclear power plant,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also requested a demilitarized zone on Thursday, urging both Russia and Ukraine to “withdraw any military personnel and equipment from the plant and refrain from any further deployment of forces or equipment to the site.”
On Wednesday, the US and its G7 allies demanded of Russia to “immediately hand back full control” of the ZNPP to Ukraine and enable International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to access the facility, but made no mention of a demilitarized zone.
Meanwhile, the US, Canadian, and European nuclear associations published a letter calling for IAEA access to the ZNPP and the withdrawal of Russian troops, but also for a 30-kilometer “safe zone” around the site, in which both Ukrainian and Russian forces would “cease military activity.”
According to the Russian military, Ukrainian forces have repeatedly fired artillery and rockets at the plant since late July, and have allegedly previously used drones to strike at the facility – the largest in Europe.
The latest attack was reported on Thursday, with units of the Ukrainian 44th Artillery Brigade firing at the plant from Nikopol and damaging the reactor coolant systems, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Only the expertise of Russian troops prevented catastrophic damage to the site, the ministry said.
Moscow is treating Ukrainian attacks on the ZNPP – as well as Wednesday’s shelling of the brewery in Donetsk that resulted in a major ammonia spill – as “acts of terrorism,” the Russian Defense Ministry added.
Russia has asked for IAEA presence on the site, but Ukraine has objected, Moscow’s permanent representative at the UN Vassily Nebenzia reminded the Security Council on Thursday.
Kiev has claimed that Russia was the one targeting the plant in an alleged plot to discredit Ukraine.
Nebenzia added that “elementary logic” suggests that Russia has no reason to target the facility or its own troops, and that multiple attacks on the ZNPP have been documented from the Ukrainian-held territory in Dnepropetrovsk Region. If a nuclear disaster does occur as a result of the shelling, all responsibility will be on “the Western sponsors of the Kiev regime,” he said.
China, which currently chairs the UN Security Council, has called for Russia and Ukraine to sit down at the negotiating table and peacefully resolve the situation around the ZNPP.
The Zaporozhye plant is the largest in Europe and stores tens of tons of enriched uranium and plutonium in its reactor cores and spent fuel storage, according to the IAEA. The watchdog chief previously said he was alarmed that the security of the radioactive materials may be compromised amid Russian-Ukrainian hostilities.