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Explainer: Fighting in Ukraine puts huge nuclear power plant at risk

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The Associated Press

Associated Press

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling Europe's largest nuclear power plant, fueling international fears of catastrophe on the continent. }

Europe's largest nuclear power plant

The Zaporizhia power plant is located in southern Ukraine near the town of Enerkhodar on the banks of the Dnieper River. This is he one of the ten largest nuclear power plants in the world.

Built during the Soviet era, it has six reactors with a total capacity of 5,700 megawatts. Three of the reactors are in operation.

Before the war, nuclear power plants accounted for about half of Ukraine's nuclear power generation. The country has 15 reactors in his four operating power plants and is also home to the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, site of the 1986 nuclear disaster.

Russian forces take control

Shortly after invading Ukraine on 24 February, Russian forces overran factories.

During fighting in early March, Russian and Ukrainian forces attacked the factory. A skirmish resulted in a fire at the training facility.

Russia has deployed Ukrainian staff to keep power plants operational and continues to supply power to government-controlled areas of Ukraine.

Fighting around nuclear power plants fuels fears of disasters such as Chernobyl, where nuclear reactors explode and release deadly radiation, contaminating vast areas in the world's worst nuclear accident.

Russian forces occupied the heavily contaminated Chernobyl site shortly after the invasion, but returned control to the Ukrainians after withdrawing from the area at the end of March.

Accusation of Russian-Ukrainian trade

Ukraine has accused Russia of storing troops and weapons in factories and using that basis to launch attacks across the Dnieper into Ukrainian-controlled areas. accused of starting Ukrainian officials and military analysts say the Russian military cynically adopted the plant as a shield because they knew Ukrainians would hesitate to fight back.

Russia denied the accusation and accused Ukrainian forces of repeatedly shelling the plant.

A series of attacks on the plant over the past few days damaged some auxiliary equipment but did not damage the reactor and did not pose a radiation leak threat, according to Russian officials.

The Russian defense ministry said Sunday's shelling of a power plant by Ukrainian forces caused a power surge and smoke that caused an emergency shutdown, leaving personnel in two units. He said he was forced to reduce the power output of the reactor.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that a Ukrainian shelling of factories would have "devastating consequences for a vast territory and for the whole of Europe," while the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that Ukraine would " They are holding the whole of Europe hostage."

Ukrainian officials responded by accusing the Russian military of planting explosives in factories in preparation for an expected Ukrainian counterattack in the area. They also accuse Russia of using Ukrainian workers as human shields to launch attacks from the factory and shell the site itself.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the bombing and mining of factories by Russia amounted to "nuclear blackmail".

Zaporizhia Governor Oleksandr Stark said the reactor was well protected by a thick concrete containment dome, but the presence of Russian forces made it impossible to guarantee safe operation. said. He also pointed out that the plant's spent nuclear fuel storage is not as well protected as the reactor.

Mark Wenman, a nuclear expert at Imperial College London, said the plant's reactors should be "protected against natural disasters and man-made accidents such as aircraft crashes and reactor accidents." said to be designed for

"I don't think it's very likely that the containment building would be destroyed by an accidental bombardment, and even less likely that the reactor itself would be damaged." he said. He said. He also states that spent fuel is "stored in very sturdy steel and concrete containers designed to withstand the effects of very high energy."

Call for international oversight

Rafael Mariano Grossi, executive director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, told the Associated Press last week. The situation surrounding the Zaporizhia power plant is "totally out of control" and an urgent plea to Russia and Ukraine to allow experts to visit the facility to stabilize the problem and avoid a nuclear accident. issued a book.

"Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated," Grossi said. "What is at stake is very serious, very serious and dangerous."

Grossi said the supply chain for equipment and spare parts has been disrupted. He also pointed out that the IAEA needs to conduct very important inspections to ensure that nuclear material is protected.

Grossi added that there were reports of friction and violence between Russian and Ukrainian staff.

"When you put this together, you have a catalog of things that shouldn't happen at any nuclear facility," Grossi said.

Russia-Ukraine clashes over IAEA visit

The IAEA tried for months to send inspection teams to the factory to no avail.

Moscow says he welcomes visits to the plant by the IAEA, but it is unclear whether he is actually prepared to help arrange such a visit.

Ukraine has previously demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops and has opposed visits to the Grossi site as long as it remains under Russian control.

But this week, Ukrainian officials, along with Ukrainian ombudsman Dmitro Rubinets, appeared to welcome such visits.

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