Days ago IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi warned over fighting which has engulfed Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant - Europe's largest, in south-eastern Ukraine, saying he's "extremely concerned" and that strikes on or near the facility threaten "the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond," Grossi said.
Both warring sides have continued to blame the other for attacks on the site, with the AFP on Thursday citing a pro-Moscow official who says Ukraine is shelling the plant; however, Kiev officials have countered, blaming Russia for fresh strikes. Regardless, the risk of "nuclear disaster" remains high, the IAEA is warning. Unverified reports are emerging Thursday that the nuclear plant could be damaged, as social media videos appear to show thick white smoke emerging from on or near the complex...
Something is burning strongly near Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. Reportedly at the insistence of 3 km. Now.— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) August 11, 2022
No sounds of explosions have yet been reported. pic.twitter.com/KJtIzWf1zy
The nuclear watchdog agency is now calling for "utmost restraint" after each side charged the other with "nuclear terrorism". Despite days of international media focus on Zaporizhzhia, there remain few confirmed details as to what is actually taking place there amid the tit-for-tat accusations, given the 'fog of war'.
One thing for sure is being carefully watched by international observers: any potential abnormal radiation levels in the area. "Radiation levels around Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant 'normal', says pro-Moscow official, after Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of striking facility," reports AFP.
Earlier in the week the power plant operator Enerhoatom issued a statement saying that some 500 Russian soldiers were occupying the site. The company charged that Russian forces were using the sensitive facility as a "nuclear shield".
From Dnipropetrovsk region you can see smoke rising near Europes largest nuclear power plant— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) August 11, 2022
- Ukraine’s state energy company say Russia shelled the Zaporizhzhia NPP ☢️ today, hitting it 5 times.
-@energoatom_ua says radiation is “within normal limits” https://t.co/eos9R2ZSp8 pic.twitter.com/YuzVXkDpTa
Given the Ukrainian admission that Russian forces now hold the site, it lends likely credibility to the Kremlin claims that it's pro-Kiev forces doing the shelling, in efforts to dislodge the Russian troop presence.
Russian state media has meanwhile quoted deputy director of the foreign ministry's press service Ivan Nechaev, who alleged the following:
"Over the past few days, Ukrainian forces have shelled the territory of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant several times, which is an act of nuclear terrorism. Such actions by the Kiev regime can lead to a catastrophe on a scale much greater than the consequences of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant [in April 1986]."
Ukraine has of course rejected this narrative. The accusations continue to fly as the UN Security Council (UNSC) holds an emergency meeting on the crisis Thursday.
Nechaev said of the emergency session, "We stand for organizing a mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Zaporozhye NPP, which was disrupted in June due to a decision by the Security Department of the UN Secretariat."
Western officials and pundits starting days ago accused Russian forces of storing ammunition at the complex, and there are even accusations they may mined some areas...
📽️Russia uses #Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as its base, and stores ammunition and military hardware in the complex. UN has already stated that every principle of nuclear safety has been violated.#UkraineRussiaWar pic.twitter.com/M19cn9Rr5A— MilitaryLand.net (@Militarylandnet) August 6, 2022
G7 ministers are at the same time demanding that Russia hand back control of the nuclear power plant back to the Ukrainian government. They said in a Wednesday statement:
"The Russian Federation must immediately withdraw its troops from within Ukraine's internationally recognized borders and respect Ukraine's territory and sovereignty," the foreign ministers said in a statement released in Germany.
"In that context, we demand that Russia immediately hand back full control to its rightful sovereign owner, Ukraine, of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as well as of all nuclear facilities within Ukraine's internationally recognized borders to ensure their safe and secure operations."
A follow-up statement Thursday from the Ukrainian operator Energoatom said that despite smoke and heavy fighting in the area, the situation at the plant "remains under control".
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In the below excerpt of notes, Al Jazeera reviews some key context about Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant:
- Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the largest plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world; it generates half of Ukraine’s nuclear-derived power.
- The plant has a total capacity of about 6,000 megawatts, enough for about four million homes.
- It is located in the southern Ukrainian steppe on the Dnieper River, some 550km (342 miles) southeast of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and about 525km (325 miles) south of Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident in 1986.
- Currently, the plant is operated by Ukrainian staff but Russian military units guard the facility.
- According to the IAEA, the plant has six Soviet-designed water-cooled reactors containing uranium 235, each of which has a net capacity of 950 megawatts. A megawatt of capacity will provide energy for 400 to 900 homes in a year.
- Zaporizhzhia plant is also located about 200km (125 miles) from Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
- On Tuesday, Ukrainian operator Energoatom said the Russian forces occupying the area were preparing to “connect the plant to the Crimean electricity grid”.
- Michael Black, the director of the Centre of Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London, told Al Jazeera that the main concern is that connecting the plant to the Crimean electricity grid could interrupt the offsite power to the reactors. “You need that power to provide cooling to the reactors … As long as [those generators] function, then everything is fine,” he said.
- “It’s encouraging to see that the Russians want to use the electricity; that does imply that they don’t want to damage [the power plant],” he added.