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dated: 2022-11-20 16:37:26 .
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Powerful explosions rocked Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region, site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the global nuclear watchdog said Sunday, calling for “urgent action to prevent a nuclear accident” at the Russian-held facility.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said two explosions – one on Saturday night and the other on Sunday morning – near the Zaporizhia power plant abruptly ended a period of relative calm around the nuclear facility, which has been the scene of a battle between Russian and of Ukrainian troops since the invasion of Russia on February 24.
The fear of a nuclear disaster has been at the fore since Russian troops seized the power plant in the early days of the war. The ongoing fighting has increased the specter of disaster.
With renewed shelling nearby and in place, IAEA experts at the Zaporizhia facility reported hearing more than a dozen explosions in a short period of time Sunday morning and seeing some explosions from their windows, the statement said.
Several of the plant’s buildings, systems and equipment — none critical to the plant’s nuclear safety — were damaged in the shelling, the IAEA said, citing the plant’s management.
Still, Grossi said the shelling reports were “extremely disturbing.” He added: “Whoever is behind this must stop immediately.
“As I have said many times before, you are playing with fire!” Grossi said, appealing to both sides to urgently establish a nuclear safety zone around the plant.
Russia has bombed Ukraine’s power grid and other vital infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts for millions of Ukrainians in cold weather. As a result, Ukrainians were left without heating, electricity and water, while the capital Kyiv and other cities were covered in snow.
Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power plant operator said Russian forces were behind the shelling of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. In a Telegram post on Sunday, Energoatom said the targeted and damaged equipment at the facility was in line with the Kremlin’s strategy to “damage or destroy as much of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as possible when” winter arrives.
The latest strikes damaged the system that would allow units 5 and 6 to once again produce electricity for Ukraine, the power operator said. On Sunday, the chemically desalinated water storage tanks and steam generator flushing system were damaged, although the full extent of the damage is still being determined.
The State Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Ukraine decided to bring the two units to a minimum controlled power level to produce steam, which is crucial to ensure the safety of the plants, plant staff, local residents and the environment in winter, Energoatom said.
However, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov blamed Ukrainian forces, claiming they shelled the plant twice on Sunday. He also said that two shells fell near the power lines that feed the power plant.
Elsewhere in the Zaporozhye region, Russian forces shelled civilian infrastructure in a dozen settlements and destroyed 30 houses, the Ukrainian presidency said on Sunday.
In the central Dnipropetrovsk region, one person was wounded and 20 buildings were damaged when Nikopol, a city across the river from the Zaporizhzhya facility, was shelled, the report said. Three districts in the northern Kharkiv region – Kupyansk, Chuguiv and Izyum – have also come under Russian artillery fire in the past 24 hours.
In the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, Russian shelling of Donetsk killed one person and damaged power lines, according to the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The situation in the southern Kherson region “remains difficult,” the report said, citing the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Russian forces targeted the city of Kherson, which was recently liberated by Ukrainian forces, and the settlements of Chervyn Mayak, Kachkarivka, Tokarivka, Chornobayivka and Antonivka with tank shells, rockets and other artillery.
Shells hit an oil depot in Kherson late Saturday, igniting a huge fire and billowing black smoke. Russian troops also shelled people waiting in a bread line in the Kherson regional town of Bilozerka, injuring five, the report said.
More than 80 tons of humanitarian aid have been sent to the city of Kherson — which still has little electricity, heat and water — so far, local administrator Yaroslav Yanushevych said, including a UNICEF shipment of 1,500 children’s winter clothes, two 35-40-kilowatt -Generators and drinking water.
Also Sunday, a funeral was held in eastern Poland for the second of two men killed in Tuesday’s rocket blast. Another man was buried on Saturday. Both Poland and the NATO chief said the missile attack was unintentional and likely launched by Ukraine trying to shoot down Russian missiles or drones.
Kirsten Grieshaber from Berlin contributed to this.
Follow all AP stories about the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
John Leicester and Hanna Arhirova, The Associated Press
Another shelling threatens an important Ukrainian nuclear power plant
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