Fire Put Out at Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine After ‘Shelling’ Sparked Flames: Officials

By Mimi Nguyen Ly
Mimi Nguyen Ly
Mimi Nguyen Ly
Mimi Nguyen Ly is a journalist based in Australia.
March 3, 2022 Updated: March 5, 2022

Update: Russian forces on Friday have taken control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant site, the regional military administration announced. Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said on March 4 that the power plant had already been seized by Russian forces on Feb. 28, and that the fire was due to “Ukrainian saboteurs.” He said Moscow has no interest in seeking a nuclear provocation of any kind.

Original story below:

A fire at the site of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine—the largest nuclear power station in Europe—was extinguished after it experienced what Ukrainian authorities said was shelling from Russian forces early on Friday.

Ukraine’s state emergency service, in announcing that the fire had been put out, said in a statement on Facebook there were no victims in the incident.

The nuclear safety of the plant is now ensured, Eastern European news source Nexta reported, citing the head of the Zaporozhye Regional State Administration.

The mayor of Enerhodar said in the early hours of Friday that Russian forces had attacked the plant. The plant, located in Enerhodar, a city on the Dnieper River, accounts for one-quarter of the country’s power generation.

Mayor Dmytro Orlov said on Telegram, according to a Reuters translation: “As a result of continuous enemy shelling of buildings and units of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire.” He said the attack is a threat to world security.

Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian troops, he said, adding there had been casualties, without elaborating. Earlier, Ukrainian authorities reported that Russian troops were stepping up efforts to seize the plant and had entered the town with tanks.

A spokesman for the power plant, Andriy Tuz, also announced the fire in the early hours of Friday.

“As a result of strikes, there is a fire at the nuclear power plant. I repeat: as a result of strikes by Russian Federation forces on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, a fire has erupted,” he said, according to a translation by The Associated Press.

He warned of “a real threat of a nuclear danger” at the power plant. “We demand that they stop the heavy weapons fire at the energy blocks of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” the spokesperson added.

Tuz told Ukrainian television that one of the facility’s six reactors caught fire, adding that it has nuclear fuel inside but is under renovation and is not in operation. An adjacent five-story training facility also caught fire.

Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told Bloomberg Television early Friday a missile hit the plant’s No. 1 unit.

The incident sparked emotional reactions from Ukrainian officials. In a video statement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian tanks shelled the nuclear station and that it could lead to evacuation for all of Europe.

“For the first time in the history of humanity! No country ever fired on nuclear energy blocks,” he said. “Russian tanks are shooting at the nuclear energy blocks at the atomic electro station. They have heat vision technology. They know exactly what they are targeting.

“Ukraine is 15 atomic blocks, if there is an explosion—it will be the end of everyone! It’s the end of Europe, it’s the evacuation of Europe. Only urgent action by Europe can stop the Russian military.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, in a statement on Twitter, wrote, “Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Fire has already broke out. If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!”

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nation’s atomic watchdog, said in a statement on Twitter it was informed by the Ukrainian nuclear regulator that “there has been no change reported in #radiation levels at the #Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant site.”

“#Ukraine tells IAEA that fire at site of #Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has not affected ‘essential’ equipment, plant personnel taking mitigatory actions,” the IAEA said in another post.

The White House in a statement late Thursday local time announced that President Joe Biden spoke with Zelensky about the fire and “joined President Zelenskyy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site.”

The statement said Biden also spoke with Jill Hruby, who is the under secretary for nuclear security of the U.S. Department of Energy and the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, to get an update on the situation. Biden “will continue to be briefed regularly,” according to the statement.

The escalation of conflict between Ukraine and Russia has entered its ninth day after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24 declared a “special military operation” against Ukraine and said the operation is a response to threats from Ukraine and is aimed at demilitarizing the country. He said at the time Russia has no plan to occupy Ukraine and does not intend to target civilians. He also said the Ukrainian military should “immediately lay down its arms.” Putin didn’t specify how long the operation would be expected to take.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that more than 1 million people have fled Ukraine since the incursion.

Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

The United States and Britain on Thursday announced further sanctions on more Russian oligarchs.

Ivan Pentchoukov, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mimi Nguyen Ly is a journalist based in Australia.