Western and Ukrainian diplomats have accused Russia of recklessly endangering global safety after a fire broke out at a training facility adjacent to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – charges that Moscow dismissed as “lies”.
At a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Friday, Kyiv’s envoy Sergiy Kyslytsya said Moscow committed “nuclear terrorism” when its forces captured Zaporizhzhia, calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attack on “humanity”.
“As a result of the shelling on the territory of the nuclear power plant, a fire broke out killing and injuring several people,” Kyslytsya told the council. Zaporizhzhia is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Moscow’s envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, however, dismissed reports that Russian troops attacked the Zaporizhzhia plant as “lies” and “disinformation”.
“You’re trying to present the situation in such a way as though the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was allegedly shelled by the Russian military as a result of which a fire broke out,” Nebenzya told the Security Council. “These statements are simply untrue.”
Nebenzya said Ukrainian “saboteurs” fired at Russian forces from a training facility outside the power plant early Friday.
“The Russian patrol returned fire on the firing points of the Ukrainian saboteurs in the building of the training complex and suppressed their fire. As they were leaving the Ukrainian sabotage group set fire to the training facility,” Nebenzya said.
He stressed that Russian forces are not interfering with the work of the plant’s operators but are trying to ensure the security of the facility.
The fire broke out as Russian troops seized the plant more than a week after capturing the Chernobyl nuclear site in northern Ukraine.
Russia launched an all-out assault on the country last week as President Vladimir Putin promised to demilitarise and “denazify” the country without occupying it.
The invasion, which has spurred international condemnations and swift sanctions on the Russian economy, came after a months-long standoff that saw Moscow amass as many as 200,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.
The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to condemn the invasion, calling for Russian troops to withdraw from Ukraine.
By Friday, the violence prompted more than 1.2 million Ukrainians to flee to neighbouring countries, according to the UN, as Russia continues to encircle and bombard cities across Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv.
At the Security Council on Friday, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of “reckless and dangerous” conduct that threatened the safety of Ukraine and Europe after the Russian military operation that captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
“The world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night,” Thomas-Greenfield told the council.
The US envoy called on Moscow to withdraw its troops from the plant, permit medical treatment for injured personnel and allow the site’s operators to communicate with nuclear regulators and conduct shift changes.
“Russia must halt any further use of force that might put at further risk all 15 operable reactors across Ukraine or interfere with Ukraine’s ability to maintain the safety and the security of its 37 nuclear facilities and their surrounding populations,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Raphael Grossi, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, had said earlier in the day that a projectile hit a building adjacent to the nuclear plant, starting a fire and injuring two security personnel.
He added that the fire was put out and did not cause damage to the nuclear reactors at the facility.
“It’s important to say that all the safety systems of the six reactors at the plant were not affected at all and that there has been no release of radioactive material,” Grossi told reporters. “The systems we have to measure the radiation are fully functional as well.”
Asked about the source of the attack that caused the fire, Grossi said: “What we understand is that this projectile is a projectile that was coming from the Russian forces. We do not have details about what kind of projectile this is.”
Grossi said he made an offer to Russian and Ukrainian authorities for him to travel to Chernobyl as soon as possible to establish a framework for safeguarding nuclear facilities across Ukraine during the conflict. No agreement has been reached yet, he added.
Later on Friday, the foreign ministers of the G7 released a joint statement condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and calling on Moscow to end its “aggression” and to immediately withdraw its forces.
“We urge Russia to stop its attacks especially in the direct vicinity of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants,” the statement said.
“Any armed attack on and threat against nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes constitutes a violation of the principles of international law. We support the initiative of IAEA Director General Grossi announced today for an agreement between Ukraine and Russia to ensure the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine.”