Fighting near Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia atomic energy plant has raised fears of a nuclear disaster

Shelling cuts Ukrainian nuclear power plant off grid as Zelenskiy warns of ‘catastrophe’

Fighting near Ukraine’s Zaporozhye nuclear power plant raises fears of a nuclear catastrophe – Copyright CNS/AFP STR

The last operating reactor at Ukraine’s Zaporozhye nuclear power plant was taken offline after shelling started a fire, and the UN’s nuclear watchdog is due to brief the Security Council on Tuesday about the crisis.

Shortly after the February invasion, Moscow largely took control of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions in southern Ukraine and is now seeking to annex them to Russia through referendums — as it did with Crimea in 2014.

Russia has also blamed Western sanctions for cutting off gas supplies to Germany, and in addition to the crisis in Europe, there are fears of a nuclear disaster in Zaporozhye, Europe’s largest nuclear facility.

“Today, as a result of another provocative shelling from Russia, the last power transmission line connecting the plant with the Ukrainian energy system was damaged,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday.

“Because of the Russian provocation, the Zaporozhye plant is one step away from a radiation disaster.”

The Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has come under fire in recent weeks, with Ukraine and Russia blaming each other for the attacks as concerns grow over a possible nuclear incident.

Energoatom, the Ukrainian state energy company, said on Monday that the last operating reactor, Unit 6, had been disconnected from the grid because shelling started a fire.

The IAEA said Ukraine had informed it that the line would be reconnected after the fire was extinguished.

On Tuesday, the nuclear watchdog was due to release a report on its mission to the plant last week, and its leader, Rafael Grossi, was also to brief the UN Security Council on the situation.

In 1986, Ukraine – then part of the Soviet Union – became the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster when a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded and released radiation into the atmosphere.

The ZNPP attacks drew comparisons to the disaster, with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday accusing Russia of “reckless behaviour.”

– Kherson referendum postponed –

Having failed to capture Kyiv in the first weeks of the war, Russia concentrated its attacks on the south and east of Ukraine.

Authorities appointed by Moscow in Ukraine’s Kherson region on Monday said plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia have been shelved.

Kirill Stremousov, a pro-Moscow official in Kherson, told Russian state television that plans for the referendum had been put on hold, but later moderated his comments, saying it was not a pause, without mentioning the date of the vote.

“The referendum will take place anyway. Nobody will cancel it,” Stremousov said in a video posted on Telegram.

Ukrainian forces have claimed success in their counteroffensive in the south, saying they have recaptured several districts and destroyed targets, including a referendum ballot warehouse.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said it continues to inflict heavy casualties on the Ukrainian army.

In his vineyard in southern Ukraine, near the city of Nikolaev, Pavel Magalias watched his grapes being harvested to the sound of artillery fire behind him.

“I am the grape grower closest to the front line,” said the 59-year-old Moldovan.

Despite the bombs, Magalias said he never considered leaving.

“The war will not kill everyone,” he told AFP. “Life will win.”

– Energy crisis in Europe –

Russia is a major energy exporter and has cut gas supplies to Europe due to Western sanctions over the invasion.

Electricity bills have skyrocketed across Europe, fueling already soaring inflation.

The Kremlin accused the “collective West – in this case the European Union, Canada and the UK” of cutting off Russian gas supplies to Germany after key infrastructure was closed indefinitely for repairs.

Concerns are growing about severe gas shortages in winter in Europe.

German Economics Minister Robert Habeck said on Monday he would keep two nuclear power plants on standby after the end of the year “in case of need” for electricity generation, partly delaying the exit from the nuclear power plant planned under former Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany has already taken steps to restart mothballed coal-fired power plants and fill up gas storage before winter to avoid energy shortages.

Earlier Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said France was ready to supply more gas so Germany could export more electricity.

burs-can/dhc

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