04 March 2022

Europe’s biggest nuclear plant in Ukraine set ablaze by Russian strike and now under Putin’s control

04 March 2022

A fire at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant ignited by Russian shelling has been extinguished, Ukrainian authorities said.

Russian forces have now taken control of the Zaporizhzhia plant in the city of Enerhodar.

Regional military officials said there had been some damage to the compartment of reactor number one in the shelling, but it does not affect the safety of the power unit.

Ukrainian officials said radiation levels in the area were not at dangerous levels, and most experts saw nothing to indicate an impending disaster.

Local officials added that operational personnel are ensuring the site’s safety. No information was immediately available about casualties.

Earlier, Ukraine’s leader had warned it would be the “end for Europe” if an explosion should occur at the plant.

The fire was extinguished at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Enerhodar following earlier shelling (AP) (AP)

In an emotional speech in the middle of the night, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he feared an explosion at the Zaporizhzhia plant that would be “the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe”.

“Only urgent action by Europe can stop the Russian troops,” he warned. “Do not allow the death of Europe from a catastrophe at a nuclear power station.”

The shelling of the plant came as the Russian military pressed its attack on a crucial energy-producing Ukrainian city and gained ground in their bid to cut off the country from the sea.

As the invasion entered its second week, another round of talks between Russia and Ukraine yielded a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid.

Mr Zelensky warned of grave consequences for the whole of Europe should the reactor be damaged (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP) (AP)

Leading nuclear authorities were worried – but not panicked – about the damage to the power station.

The assault led to phone calls between Mr Zelensky and US President Joe Biden and other world leaders. The US Department of Energy activated its nuclear incident response team as a precaution over the shelling.

Earlier, nuclear plant spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that shells fell directly on the facility and set fire to one of its six reactors.

That reactor is under renovation and not operating, but there is nuclear fuel inside, he said.

The Zaporizhzhia regional military administration said that measurements taken at 7am local time on Friday (5am GMT) showed radiation levels in the region “remain unchanged and do not endanger the lives and health of the population”.

The mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, announced on his Telegram channel on Friday morning that “the fire at the (nuclear plant) has indeed been extinguished”.

His office told The Associated Press that the information came from firefighters who were allowed onto the site overnight.

The assault renewed fears that the invasion could damage one of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors and set off another emergency like the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, which happened about 65 miles north of the capital.

A father mourns his son, who was killed while playing soccer in Mariupol (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP) (AP)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in “coming hours” to raise the issue of Russia’s attack on the nuclear power plant, according to a statement from his office.

US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm tweeted that the Zaporizhzhia plant’s reactors were protected by robust containment structures and were being safely shut down.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the fire had not affected essential equipment and that Ukraine’s nuclear regulator reported no change in radiation levels. The American Nuclear Society concurred, saying that the latest radiation levels remained within natural background levels.

“The real threat to Ukrainian lives continues to be the violent invasion and bombing of their country,” the group said in a statement.

Mr Orlov, the mayor of Enerhodar, said Russian shelling stopped a few hours before dawn, and residents of the city of more than 50,000 who had stayed in shelters overnight could return home.

The city awoke with no heat, however, because the shelling damaged the city’s heating main, he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have brought their superior firepower to bear over the past few days, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites around the country and making significant gains in the south.

The Russians announced the capture of the southern city of Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 280,000, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed the takeover of the government headquarters there, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago.

A Russian air strike on Thursday destroyed the power plant in Okhtyrka, leaving the city without heat or electricity, the head of the region said on Telegram.

In the first days of the war, Russian troops attacked a military base in the city, located between Kharkiv and Kyiv, and officials said more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed.

Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. The battles have knocked out the city’s electricity, heat and water systems, as well as most phone service, officials said. Food deliveries to the city were also cut.

Severing Ukraine’s access to the Black and Azov seas would deal a crippling blow to its economy and allow Russia to build a land corridor to Crimea, seized by Moscow in 2014.

Overall, the outnumbered, outgunned Ukrainians have put up stiff resistance, staving off the swift victory that Russia appeared to have expected.

But a senior US defence official said Russia’s seizure of Crimea gave it a logistical advantage in that part of the country, with shorter supply lines that smoothed the offensive there.

A woman with her son look at a train leaving as they try to flee at Kyiv station (AP) (AP)

Ukrainian leaders called on the people to defend their homeland by cutting down trees, erecting barricades in the cities and attacking enemy columns from the rear.

In recent days, authorities have issued weapons to civilians and taught them how to make Molotov cocktails.

“Total resistance. … This is our Ukrainian trump card, and this is what we can do best in the world,” Oleksiy Arestovich, an aide to Mr Zelensky, said in a video message, recalling guerrilla actions in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during the Second World War.

The second round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations has been held in neighbouring Belarus.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

But the two sides appeared far apart going into the meeting, and Mr Putin warned Ukraine that it must quickly accept the Kremlin’s demand for its “demilitarisation” and declare itself neutral, renouncing its bid to join Nato.

Mr Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron he was determined to press on with his attack “until the end”, according to Mr Macron’s office.

Despite a profusion of evidence of civilian casualties and destruction of property by the Russian military, Mr Putin decried what he called an “anti-Russian disinformation campaign” and insisted that Moscow uses “only precision weapons to exclusively destroy military infrastructure”.

He claimed that the Russian military had already offered safe corridors for civilians to flee, but he asserted without evidence that Ukrainian “neo-Nazis” were preventing people from leaving and were using them as human shields.

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