Russia Says It Might Shut Front-Line Nuclear Plant; Kyiv Says That Risks Disaster

By Reuters
August 18, 2022 Updated: August 19, 2022

KYIV/LVIV, UkraineRussia said on Aug. 18 that it might shut down Europe’s largest nuclear power station, which is on the front lines in Ukraine, after the facility came under shelling.

Ukrainian officials said that would boost the risk of a nuclear disaster there.

Moscow has rejected international calls for a demilitarized zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which it seized early in the war and is still operated by Ukrainian engineers under Russian control.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, who discussed the situation at the plant with visiting United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Lviv, called on the United Nations to ensure that it was demilitarized and protected.

The power station sits on the Russian-controlled south bank of a huge reservoir; Ukrainian forces hold the north bank. Recent days have seen several incidents of shelling, which both sides have blamed on the other, at the plant.

Foreign countries and the U.N. have called on Moscow to allow in international inspectors. Reuters can’t independently confirm the military situation there or responsibility for shelling of the plant.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson said on Aug. 18 that calls for a demilitarized zone around the plant are “unacceptable.” The defense ministry said Moscow could shut the plant if it came under further attack.

Ukrainian state nuclear energy company Energoatom said shuttering the plant would increase the risk of “a radiation disaster at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.”

Disconnecting the complex’s generators from Ukraine’s power system would prevent them being used to keep nuclear fuel cool, in the event of a power outage at the facility, it said.

Russia’s defense ministry accused Kyiv of planning some form of incident at the nuclear plant as a “provocation” to take place during Guterres’s visit. A Ukrainian official dismissed that a cynical assertion by Moscow.

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, on Aug. 4, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)


In a briefing, Igor Kirillov, head of Russia’s radioactive, chemical and biological defence forces, said the plant’s back-up support systems had been damaged as a result of shelling. He presented a slide, showing that in the event of an accident, radioactive material would cover Germany, Poland and Slovakia.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said he had spoken to the director general of the International Atomic Agency, who was ready to lead a delegation to the plant.

“I emphasised the mission’s urgency to address nuclear security threats caused by Russia’s hostilities,” he wrote on Twitter.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also was expected at the talks with Guterres and Zelenskyy in Lviv, to discuss progress resuming exports of Ukrainian grain under a deal brokered by the U.N. and Ankara to lift a Russian blockade. Both Russia and Ukraine are major food producers, and the blockade has the potential to exacerbate global hunger.

Guterres also was expected to discuss the U.N. role in negotiations over prisoners of war.

After months during which Russian forces made modest territorial gains in heavy fighting in the east, the front lines in Ukraine have been comparatively static in recent weeks.

Kyiv claims it’s preparing for a counterattack to recapture a swath of southern territory, including Kherson Province and neighbouring Zaporizhzhia where the plant is located.

By Natalia Zinets and Andrea Shalal