The Secretary-General of the United Nations has demanded an immediate cessation of all military operations near Europe's largest nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv both blamed the other for resumed bombardment.
The Energoatom agency of Ukraine reported that the Zaporizhzhia complex was attacked five times on Thursday, including near storage areas for radioactive materials.
TASS, a Russian news agency, cited Russian-appointed authorities saying Ukraine shelled the plant twice, disrupting a shift changeover.
In a statement issued before a Russia-called meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that any damage might have "catastrophic consequences" in the area and beyond.
"The facility may not be utilized in connection with any military operation. Guterres stated that urgent technical agreement on a safe demilitarized perimeter is required to protect the region's safety.
Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN's nuclear agency, told the Security Council that the military activity around Zaporizhzhia was "very alarming," and he urged Ukraine and Russia to immediately allow nuclear experts to assess the damage and evaluate safety and security at the complex because "the situation has been rapidly deteriorating."
Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), cited shelling and multiple explosions in Zaporizhzhia on Friday, which led to the shutdown of the main power transformer and two backup transformers and the subsequent shutdown of one nuclear reactor.
Earlier, he had warned that the situation in Zaporizhzhia, which was seized by Russia in March, shortly after the invasion on February 24th, was becoming increasingly risky every day.
While Russia controls the factory in southeastern Ukraine, its Ukrainian personnel continue operating the facility.
Grossi stated that claims obtained from Russia and Ukraine were "frequently contradicted" and that the IAEA would be unable to confirm the facts unless its specialists visited the site, a request supported by the United States.
Plant shelled again
At the Security Council meeting, Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Ukraine of committing "criminal attacks on nuclear infrastructure... bringing the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe."
He stated that Ukrainian military troops had frequently utilized heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems to bombard the Zaporizhzhia factory, most recently on Thursday.
Nebenzia stated, "The background radiation at the nuclear power plant is currently within acceptable limits, but if the attacks continue, it is only a matter of time." We call on those who support the Kyiv administration to rein in their proxies and compel them to immediately and permanently cease attacks.
Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations, accused Russia of utilizing "complex schemes of deceit, sabotage, and cover-ups" to stage the shelling at Zaporizhzhia, including on Thursday, which posed "an unprecedented threat to nuclear security for Ukraine, Europe, and the world."
Kyiv has also accused Russia of launching missiles toward Ukrainian towns from the region surrounding Zaporizhzhia, knowing that Ukraine's retaliation would be risky.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded that Russia return the plant to Ukraine.
"Only a full Russian withdrawal... and the restoration of full Ukrainian control of the situation around the station can guarantee a return to nuclear security across Europe," he said in a video message.
‘More catastrophic than Chernobyl’
The Russian conquest of Zaporizhzhia has reignited concerns that the largest of Ukraine's 15 nuclear reactors could be damaged, triggering a crisis comparable to that of 1986's Chernobyl. When Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, the world's greatest nuclear tragedy began with the failure of a routine systems test around 110 kilometers (65 miles) north of the capital Kyiv.
The repercussions of a radioactive catastrophe in Zaporizhzhia, according to Zelenskyy, "could be even more catastrophic than Chernobyl and essentially identical to the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, but without a nuclear strike."
The Moscow-appointed interim leader of the Zaporizhzhia region stated on Thursday that the administration supported by Russia was prepared to safeguard the safety of any IAEA mission deployed to investigate the situation.
In an interview with Russian state TV, Yevhen Balytskyy said, "We are fully prepared to accept the IAEA, and we will ensure security." He claimed that the authorities supported by the Kremlin had prepared armored cars for the world diplomats.
Grossi stated in a statement released on Wednesday that he will personally lead a team of experts to check the nuclear plant "in the very near future," without providing any details.