‘Playing with fire’: UN warns as team to inspect damage at Ukraine nuclear plant

  • The head of the IAEA warns: ‘You are playing with fire!’ after explosions
  • Russia, Ukraine blame trade for shelling
  • President Zelenskiy says that the eastern region has been hit by heavy artillery
  • ‘Fierce fighting’ in Donetsk region, Zelenskiy said

LONDON/LVIV, Ukraine, Nov 21 (Reuters) – The head of the UN nuclear watchdog has warned that whoever fired artillery at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was “playing with fire” as his team prepares to w inspected on Monday for damage from the weekend strikes.

The attacks on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine came as fighting raged in the east, where Russian forces hit Ukrainian positions along the front line, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

The shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant follows setbacks for Russian forces in the southern Kherson region and a Russian response that has included a barrage of missile strikes across the country, many on power facilities.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said more than a dozen explosions rocked the nuclear plant late Saturday and Sunday. The head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, said that the attacks were extremely disturbing and completely unacceptable.

“Whoever is behind this, must stop immediately. As I have said many times before, you are playing with fire!” Grossi said in a statement.

Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for shelling the facility, as they have done repeatedly in recent months after attacks on or near it.

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Citing information provided by plant managers, the IAEA team on the ground said damage had been done to some buildings, systems and equipment, but none of it is critical for nuclear safety.

The team plans to conduct an assessment on Monday, Grossi said, but Russian nuclear power operator Rosenergoatom said there would be curbs on what the team could examine.

“If they want to inspect a facility that has nothing to do with nuclear safety, access will be denied,” Renat Karchaa, an adviser to Rosenergoatom’s CEO, told the Tass news agency.

Repeated explosions at the plant have raised concerns about a serious accident 500 km (300 miles) from the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

The Zaporizhzhia plant provided about a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before the Russian invasion, and has been forced to operate on standby generators a number of times. It has six Soviet-designed VVER-1000 V-320 water-cooled, water-moderated reactors containing Uranium 235.

The reactors have been shut down but there is a risk that nuclear fuel could overheat if the power driving the cooling systems is cut. Shelling has repeatedly cut power lines.

Russia’s defense ministry said Ukraine fired shells at power lines supplying the plant but Ukraine’s nuclear power company, Energoatom, accused the Russian military of shelling the site, saying the Russians had targeted infrastructure needed to restart parts of the factory in an attempt to further restrict Ukraine’s power supply.

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A view showing the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant from the town of Nikopol, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine November 7, 2022. Photo taken through glass. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

‘Fierce battles’

In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces pounded Ukrainian front-line positions with artillery fire, with the heaviest attacks in the Donetsk region, Zelenskiy said in a video address.

Russia withdrew its forces from the southern city of Kherson this month and moved some of them to reinforce positions in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, an industrial area known as Donbas.

“The fierce battles are, as before, in the Donetsk region. Although there are fewer attacks today because the weather is getting worse, unfortunately the amount of Russian shelling remains very high,” said Zelenskiy.

“In the Luhansk region, we are advancing slowly in fighting. Currently, there have been almost 400 artillery attacks in the east since the beginning of the day,” he said.

Ukraine’s military confirmed in an early update on Monday heavy fighting over the previous 24 hours, saying its forces had repelled Russian attacks in the Donetsk region while Russian forces were shelling out in the Luhansk region in the east and Kharkiv in the northeast.

In the south, Zelenskiy said troops were “constantly and very carefully destroying the potential of the occupants” but gave no details.

The city of Kherson remains without electricity, running water or heat.

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Ukraine said on Saturday that around 60 Russian soldiers had been killed in a long-range artillery attack in the south, the second time in four days that Ukraine claimed to have caused heavy casualties in a single incident.

The Russian defense ministry said on Sunday that up to 50 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed the previous day along the southern Donetsk frontline and 50 elsewhere.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify any battlefield reports.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor, although Kyiv and its allies say the invasion was an unprovoked war of aggression.

Oleh Zhdanov, a military analyst in Kyiv, said that according to his information, Russian crimes are taking place on the front lines of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, among others.

“The enemy is trying to break through our defenses, in vain,” Zhdanov said in a social media video. “We are fighting back – they are suffering huge losses.”

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, 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; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, David Ljunggren and Shri Navaratnam; Edited by Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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