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Top Russian official warns of nuclear ‘disaster’ at Ukraine nuclear plant

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2022. (ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
November 21, 2022

The head of the Russian nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, warned on Monday that artillery fire near the nuclear power plant in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia could cause a nuclear disaster.

“We are informing the international community that the plant is at risk of a nuclear disaster and Kyiv clearly believes that a small nuclear incident would be acceptable,” Rosatom Chief Executive Officer Alexey Likhachev said on Monday, according to the Russian state-run TASS news agency.

Likhachev went on to say “radiation won’t ask Kyiv what kind of incident it wants. It will be a precedent that will change the course of history forever. So everything possible needs to be done to make sure that no one can even think of damaging the security of nuclear power plants.”

According to TASS, Russian forces captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in February of this year and the plant has continued to operate under Russian control. The Russian Ministry of Defense accused the Ukrainian Armed Forces of firing 25 artillery shells near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant over the weekend, risking damage to the plant.

The Ukrainian nuclear power agency, Energoatom, has blamed the Russian side for the damage to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The Ukrainian agency said Russian forces were responsible for at least 12 strikes on the facility while acknowledging that Russian forces are positioned in the territory around the plant.

The United Nation’s nuclear inspection agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), conducted a visit and damage assessment of the nuclear plant on Monday. Without assigning blame to either side, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced that the agency determined the plant had been damaged.

Grossi said whoever was firing at the plant was taking “huge risks and gambling with many people’s lives.”

The Rosatom chief said the Russian side had raised concerns about a nuclear accident and was “in negotiations with the [IAEA] all night.”

The IAEA has called for a security zone around the nuclear power plant, but Likhachev said it would only be possible if it was supported by the U.S., Reuters reported.

The Russian warning about a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia plant comes as Russian officials have repeatedly warned about nuclear weapons and radioactive dirty bombs being employed in the ongoing fighting in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian side has repeatedly accused the Russian side of attacking nuclear power plants in Ukraine, including the Zaporizhzhia plant and the Pivdennoukrayinsk plant.

The latest round of shelling around Zaporizhzhia comes just days after a missile landed in Poland and killed two civilians. A nuclear attack or an attack by Russia on a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally such as Ukraine risks an escalation in the fighting in Ukraine and the potential for greater NATO intervention against Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russian forces of firing the missile that hit Poland last week and called for NATO to take action.

“Hitting NATO territory with missiles,” Zelenskyy said. “This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a really significant escalation. Action is needed.”

Within hours of the missile strike in Poland, U.S. President Joe Biden, Polish President Andrzej Duda and other NATO leaders voiced doubts that the missile that landed in Poland was launched by Russian forces. NATO Secretary General said NATO’s preliminary analysis indicated Poland was actually struck by Ukrainian air defense missile that was “fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.”