Concerns are mounting over the potential for radioactive fallout and disaster at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine following large explosions heard at the site over the weekend.
Like with prior incidents of shelling and fighting coming near the sensitive facility, each warring side is blaming the other for these latest attacks. "Explosions shook the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine over the weekend in what appeared to be renewed shelling of the facility and the surrounding area, according to the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," The Hill reports Sunday.
The BBC cites local sources who say over a dozen powerful explosions were heard Saturday night at or in the vicinity of Zaporizhzhia plant, which remains Europe's largest nuclear facility.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi called the reports "extremely disturbing" and "completely unacceptable". He urged for fighting to halt there immediately. "Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately. As I have said many times before, you’re playing with fire!"
The IAEA said that in prior weeks there had been a "period of relative calm" in the area, which has now ended. "I’m not giving up until this zone has become a reality. As the ongoing apparent shelling demonstrates, it is needed more than ever," Grossi stated.
The UN atomic watchdog still has a team of experts on location at the plant, but there's been no definitive word on which side was behind the renewed shelling which risks destabilizing the plant.
Most Western media reports have blamed Russia for the powerful explosions which reportedly continued into Sunday, despite Russian troops still being the ones to occupy and oversee the actual site. Ukrainian state energy company Energoatom charged that Russia is "once again... putting the whole world at risk."
"This morning on Nov. 20, 2022, as a result of numerous Russian shelling, at least 12 hits were recorded on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," Energoatom said.
"You are playing with fire!"— Sky News (@SkyNews) November 20, 2022
Director General of the international Atomic Energy Agency reacted to reports that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is being shelled and said: "whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately."
📺 Sky 501 pic.twitter.com/L9897zapHB
Russia fired back, with its own nuclear agency Rosatom saying the following:
Kyiv "does not stop its provocations aiming at creating the threat of a man-made catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," the Russian army said in a statement on Sunday.
Despite the shelling, radiation levels "remain normal," the army added.
It said missiles exploded around a power line that feeds the plant, the fourth and fifth power units and "special building number 2."
Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom, told state-run agency TASS that the "special building" contained nuclear fuel.
As for assessed damage as a result of the weekend explosions, the IAEA said at this point the damage to the buildings is not "critical."
However, there fears this means escalation in fighting around the plant, with the IAEA statement underscoring the shelling is "abruptly ending a period of relative calm at the facility and further underlining the urgent need for measures to help prevent a nuclear accident there."