Russia accuses Ukraine of bombing nuclear power plant

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More than a dozen explosions rocked Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – which is under Russian control – on Saturday evening and Sunday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.

Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of bombing the facility, as they have repeatedly done in recent months after earlier explosions.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the news of the explosions was extremely worrying.

“Explosions have occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is totally unacceptable. Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately. As I have said many times before, you are playing with fire!” he said in a statement.

Citing information provided by plant management, the IAEA team on the ground said that some buildings, systems and equipment had been damaged, but none of them were critical to safety and nuclear security so far.

The team plans to conduct an assessment on Monday, Grossi said in a statement released later Sunday.

Russian nuclear operator Rosenergoatom, however, said there would be restrictions on what the team could inspect.

“They interpret their tenure as having no limits. That’s not the case,” Renat Karchaa, adviser to the CEO of Rosenergoatom, told the Tass news agency.

“If they want to inspect a facility that has nothing to do with nuclear safety, they will be denied access.”

Repeated bombings of the plant in southern Ukraine have raised fears of a serious accident 500 kilometers from the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant provided around a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before the Russian invasion and has been forced to run on backup generators on several occasions. It has six water-cooled, water-moderated VVER-1000 V-320 reactors of Soviet design containing uranium-235.

The reactors are shut down but there is a risk of the nuclear fuel overheating in the event of a power cut to the cooling systems. The bombings repeatedly cut the power lines.

Grossi, asked by French TV channel BFM if he was planning to travel to Zaporizhzhia, replied “Certainly”, but gave no details.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine fired shells at power lines feeding the plant, while TASS quoted Karchaa as saying some storage facilities were hit by Ukrainian shelling.

He said the shells were fired near a dry nuclear waste storage facility and a building that houses fresh spent nuclear fuel, but no radioactive emissions had currently been detected, according to TASS.

Ukrainian nuclear energy company Energoatom accused the Russian military of bombing the site and said there were at least 12 hits to the plant’s infrastructure.

He said Russia had targeted the infrastructure needed to restart parts of the plant in a bid to further limit Ukraine’s electricity supply.

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