'You're playing with fire!': UN condemns shelling at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

'You're playing with fire!': UN condemns shelling at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
Reactor 2 at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, photographed during an official IAEA inspection in September this year. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Repeated shelling was reported over the weekend at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Russia-occupied southern Ukraine, drawing condemnation from UN officials and accusations from both Russia and Ukraine of the other side's responsibility.

"The news from our team yesterday and this morning are extremely disturbing," Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an UN-run organisation, said on Sunday. "Explosions occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable. Whoever is behind this, must stop immediately. As I have said many times before, you're playing with fire!"

Grossi also called on both Russia and Ukraine to implement a "nuclear safety and security zone" around the power plant "as soon as possible".

"I'm not giving up until this security zone has become a reality," Grossi added. "As the ongoing apparent shelling demonstrates, it is needed more than ever."

Playing the blame game

Energoatom, Ukraine's nuclear energy agency, blamed Russia for the plant's shelling.

"This morning, on 20 November, 2022, as a result of numerous Russian attacks, at least 12 'arrivals' were recorded at the site of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant," Energoatom reported on Sunday. The agency further blamed Russia for engaging in "nuclear blackmail and endanger[ing] the whole world by their actions".

Russia's accusations of Ukrainian responsibility were similarly emphatic.

"We inform the world community that the [Power Plant] is put at risk of an atomic accident, and it is obvious that Kyiv considers a small nuclear incident permissible," the head of Rosatom, Russia's nuclear energy agency, told Russian state media on Monday. "It will be a precedent that will change the course of history forever. Therefore, we need to do everything so that no one has any thoughts of encroaching on the safety of the Nuclear Power Plant."

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The Soviet-era Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant — Europe's biggest nuclear power station — provided approximately 20% of Ukraine's electricity prior to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February this year. Occupied during the war's early stages, it is located on the banks of the Dnipro river — and, hence, is currently on the war's frontlines.

After repeated shelling and fears of a "second Chernobyl" over the summer, the plant was visited by an IAEA mission led by Grossi in early September. After the delegation's departure, several IAEA employees remained at the power plant as official observers.

The IAEA claims that some of these employees were "able to see the explosions from their windows".

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