Ukrainian nuclear plant escapes collapse, says Zelenskiy; Moscow and Kyiv blame trade

  • Regular power line to Zaporizhzhia plant works again -IAEA
  • Nearby fires had disrupted the power link earlier in the day
  • 25 dead in a strike at the station in a residential area
  • Russia says it hit a military train intended to deliver weapons

KYIV, Aug 26 (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the world narrowly avoided a radioactive disaster as the last regular line supplying power to Ukraine’s Russian-owned Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was restored within hours after being cut.

Zelenskiy blamed Russian military shelling on Thursday for fires in the ash pits of a nearby coal-fired power plant that disconnected the reactor complex, the largest such facility in Europe, from the power grid. He said backup diesel generators provided power and protected the plant.

“If our station staff had not reacted after the blackout, we would have already been forced to overcome the consequences of a radiological accident,” he said in an evening speech. “Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans on the verge of a radioactive disaster.”

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International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials should have access to the site within days, he said, “before the occupants bring the situation to the point of no return” .

Ukrainian nuclear company Energoatom said it was the first complete disconnection in the plant’s history. Electricity is used for cooling and security systems.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, seized the plant in March and has controlled it ever since, although Ukrainian technicians still operate it.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of bombing the site, fueling fears of a nuclear disaster.

Writing on Telegram, Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the occupied town of Enerhodar near the plant, said satellite photos showed the local forest in flames. He said towns in the region lost power for several hours on Thursday.

“This was caused by the disconnection of power lines from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as a result of provocations by Zelenskiy fighters,” Rogov wrote. “The disconnection itself was triggered by a fire and a short circuit on the power lines.”

Nuclear experts have warned of the risk of damage to spent nuclear fuel pools at the plant or its reactors. Power cuts needed to cool the pools could cause a disastrous collapse.

The United Nations is seeking access to the factory and has called for the demilitarization of the area. IAEA officials are “very, very close” to being able to travel to Zaporizhzhia, the agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi, said on Thursday.

Ukraine’s energy minister said officials from the agency could visit the plant in the coming days.

“Certainly no later than early September,” German Galushchenko told Reuters in Kyiv.

As the war entered its seventh month, Russia said its forces struck a train station in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, confirming an attack that Kyiv said killed 25 civilians as the nation marked its day of independence.

The Russian Defense Ministry said an Iskander missile hit a military train at Chaplyne station that was to deliver weapons to Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbass region.

Ukrainian officials said 21 people were killed when the station was hit and five train carriages caught fire, and a boy died when a missile hit his nearby house. The death toll rose to 25 on Thursday after three more bodies were found in the rubble, officials said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 200 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in the attack. Moscow denies targeting civilians and has said rail infrastructure is a legitimate target since it is used to supply Ukraine with Western weapons.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the information.

NUCLEAR POWER PLANT RISK

Fighting in the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been a source of concern for weeks.

The complex supplied more than 20% of Ukraine’s electricity needs and its loss would place further pressure on the government.

Russia’s ground campaign has stalled in recent months after its troops were pushed back from the capital Kyiv in the first weeks of the invasion.

Russian forces control a strip of territory in the south along Ukraine’s Black Sea and Sea of ​​Azov coasts, while the conflict has turned into a war of attrition in Donbass.

In its daily briefing, the Russian Defense Ministry said it destroyed eight Ukrainian fighter jets in strikes on airbases in Ukraine’s Poltava and Dnipropetrovsk regions. It would be one of the heaviest losses for the Ukrainian Air Force in recent weeks.

Kyiv has repeatedly requested more high-quality Western military hardware it needs to repel Russian attacks.

Zelenskiy spoke by phone Thursday with US President Joe Biden, who reiterated US support for Ukraine against Russia, the White House said.

In a move that could bolster Western estimates of heavy Russian casualties during the war, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed a decree increasing the size of Russia’s armed forces to 2.04 million from 1.9 million. Read more

The Kremlin says its goal is to “denazify” and demilitarize Ukraine and eliminate perceived security threats to Russia.

This is dismissed by Ukraine and the West as a baseless pretext for a war of conquest that has killed thousands of civilians, displaced millions and left cities in ruins. It has also shaken the global economy, creating shortages of essential foods and driving up energy prices.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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