Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has warned that Russia plans to stage a major accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is under the control of Russian forces, in a bid to thwart Ukraine’s expected counter-offensive to recapture its territory captured by Moscow.
The Zaporizhzhia plant, which is located in a Russian-occupied area of southern Ukraine, is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and the area has been repeatedly hit by shelling with both sides blaming each other for the dangerous attacks.
Ahead of Ukraine’s expected counteroffensive, fears that a nuclear disaster could strike have grown amid increasing military activity around Zaporizhzhia.
“The Russians are preparing a massive provocation and imitation of the accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the next few hours,” the intelligence directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on Friday.
“They are planning to attack the territory of the ZNPP [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant]. After that, they will announce the leak of radioactive substances,” the intelligence directorate said in a statement and later on social media.
Reports of radioactive material leaking from the plant would trigger a global incident and force an investigation by international authorities, during which all hostilities would be halted, the management said. Russia would then use that lull in the fighting to regroup its forces and better prepare to stop the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the intelligence service said.
“Obviously they will blame Ukraine,” the leadership said, adding that the aim of the attack would be to “provoke the international community” to investigate the incident and force a pause in the fighting.
‼️ The Russians are preparing a massive provocation and imitation of the accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the next few hours.
They are planning to attack the territory of the ZNPP. After that, they will announce the leak of the radioactive substances. pic.twitter.com/Vk6hRDD26v
— Ukrainian Defense Intelligence (@DI_Ukraine) May 26, 2023
Experts say reports of a radiation leak at the plant would be followed by immediate evacuations, which could be extremely complex in a war zone. According to experts, for many people, the fear of being contaminated by radiation could also be more dangerous than the radiation itself.
Witnesses last week said Russian military forces were upgrading defensive positions in and around the nuclear power plant ahead of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive.
In preparation for the planned radioactive incident, Russia has halted the scheduled rotation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who are stationed at the plant, Ukraine’s intelligence directorate said.
The report of a planned incident in Zaporizhzhia was echoed in a tweet by Ukraine’s representative to the United Nations in New York, Sergiy Kyslytsya, who said events could unfold “in the next few hours.”
Moscow is preparing a large-scale provocation to create a radiation hazard center, according to @DI_Ukraine In the next few hours, the Russians are preparing a large-scale provocation to simulate an accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.https://t.co/KuxZEGRB2i
— Sergiy Kyslytsya ???????? (@SergiyKyslytsya) May 26, 2023
The management statement did not provide any evidence to back up its claims and the Vienna-based IAEA, which frequently publishes updates on the situation at the power plant, did not mention any disruption to its schedule.
kyiv and Moscow have repeatedly accused each other of attacking the plant.
In February, Russia said Ukraine was planning to stage a nuclear incident on its territory and blame Moscow.
Moscow has also repeatedly accused kyiv of planning “false flag” operations with unconventional weapons, using biological or radioactive materials.
So far there have been no such attacks.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi will brief the UN Security Council next week on the security situation in Zaporizhzhia and his plan for safeguards at the site. Grossi, who last visited the plant in March, has redoubled his efforts to reach an agreement with Ukraine and Russia to ensure the plant’s protection during fighting.
In a statement last week, Grossi said: “It’s very simple: don’t shoot at the plant and don’t use the plant as a military base.”
“It should be in everyone’s interest to agree on a set of principles to protect the plant during conflict,” he added.
Zaporizhzhia once supplied about 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity and continued to function in the first months of the Russian invasion, despite frequent shelling, before stopping power production entirely in September.
None of Ukraine’s six Soviet-era reactors have generated electricity since then, but the Zaporizhzhia facility remains connected to the Ukrainian power grid for its own needs, particularly for cooling the plant’s nuclear reactors.
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