- IAEA chief warns of huge risk of fighting inside factory
- Russia, Ukraine trade blamed for shelling
- President Zelenskiy says eastern region under heavy artillery fire
- ‘Heaviest fighting’ in Donetsk region, says Zelensky
Kyiv, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Ukraine narrowly escaped a weekend of fighting that rocked Europe’s largest atomic power plant with a flood of shells, some of which landed on the ground, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said. near the reactor and damaged a radioactive waste storage building.
It was not immediately clear which party was responsible for the explosion at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, which has been under Russian control since shortly after it invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said whoever opened fire on the plant was taking “enormous risks and putting many lives at stake”.
“We were lucky not to have a potentially serious nuclear accident. Next time, we may not be so lucky,” Grossi said in a statement late Sunday, describing the situation as “near misses.”
The plant was repeatedly shelled during the war, raising fears of a catastrophe in the world’s worst nuclear accident, Chernobyl in 1986.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation levels remained normal and no casualties were reported. While there was no direct impact on nuclear safety and security systems, “the shelling came dangerously close to them,” Grossi said.
The shelling came as fighting moved further east, moving south along the same Dnieper River that Zaporizhzhia sits on, as troops moved from near Kherson, recently recaptured by Ukraine.
Russia’s response to its military setback has included a barrage of missile strikes, many of which left much of the country without power as winter sets in and temperatures drop below freezing.
Kyiv controls the territory across the river from the power station, including the regional capital. The Zaporizhzhia plant itself and the territory to the south fell into Russian hands in March.
Both sides have blamed the recent shelling, which they have done repeatedly in recent months after attacks at or near factories.
Citing information from the plant’s management, the IAEA’s on-site team said the damaged infrastructure included a radioactive waste and storage building, cooling pool systems, cables connecting one of the reactors, and a bridge connecting the other reactor to auxiliary buildings.
Grossi said the panel planned to conduct an assessment on Monday, but Russia’s nuclear power operator Rosenergoatom said there would be limits to what the panel could examine.
“If they want to inspect facilities not related to nuclear safety, they will be denied access,” Renat Karchaa, an adviser to Rosenergoatom’s chief executive, told TASS.
Before the Russian invasion, the Zaporoz thermal power plant provided about a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity and was repeatedly forced to run on backup generators. It has six Soviet-designed VVER-1000 V-320 water-cooled and water-moderated reactors containing uranium-235.
The reactor is shut down, but if the power to drive the cooling system is cut, the nuclear fuel risks overheating. Shelling has cut power lines several times.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said Ukraine fired shells into the power lines that supply the plant. Ukrainian nuclear energy company Energoatom said the Russian military shelled the site, accusing it of nuclear blackmail and an operation that “endangered the entire world”.
“The Fierceest Battle”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Sunday night that Russian troops hit Ukrainian frontline positions with artillery fire in eastern Ukraine, with the Donetsk region the most violent.
Russia this month withdrew its troops from the southern city of Kherson and redirected some of them to strengthen positions in the East Donetsk and Luhansk regions, an industrial zone known as the Donbass.
“As before, the heaviest fighting took place in the Donetsk region. Although there were fewer attacks today due to worsening weather, unfortunately the number of Russian shelling remains very high,” Zelensky said.
“In the Luhansk region, we are fighting and advancing slowly. So far, there have been almost 400 shellings in the east since the day started,” he said.
The Ukrainian military confirmed heavy fighting over the past 24 hours in an update earlier on Monday, saying its forces had repelled a Russian attack in the Donetsk region, while Russian forces were shelling the Luhansk region in the east and the northeast. Department of Kharkov.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield reports.
In the south, Zelensky said the military “consistently and very systematically destroys the potential of the occupiers,” without giving details.
The city of Kherson still has no electricity, running water or heating.
Russia called its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation” aimed at demilitarizing its neighbor. Kyiv and its allies have called the invasion an unprovoked war of aggression.
Olekh Zhdanov, a Kyiv military analyst, said that according to his information, Russia is launching an offensive on the Bakhmut and Avdivka fronts in the Donetsk region, among others.
“The enemy tried to break through our defenses, but to no avail,” Zhdanov said in a social media video. “We fought back — they suffered heavy losses.”
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Maria Starkova in Lviv, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Caleb Davis in Gdansk and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna and Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; by Frank Jack Daniel Written by (Frank Jack Daniel); Edited by Alex Richardson
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