Europe and Ukraine are ‘one step away from nuclear plant disaster’, Zelensky warns

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The president spoke out after an alarm was raised at the sprawling Ukrainian nuclear plant as it temporarily had to be shut off from the national grid amid ongoing fighting in the area. The final pair of working reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant were cut off from Ukraine’s power grid, Mr Zelensky confirmed.

Ukraine’s nuclear agency said the potentially disastrous problem was caused by nearby fires that damaged overhead electricity lines.

It was only due to backup electricity kicking in that the Zaporizhzhia plant was able to operate safely, he added.

“If the diesel generators hadn’t turned on, if the automation and our staff of the plant had not reacted after the blackout, then we would already be forced to overcome the consequences of the radiation accident,” President Zelensky warned.

Satellite images showed an extensive fire burning in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear complex.

President Zelensky blamed the damage on Russian shelling, and in his nightly address accused Moscow of putting Ukraine and Europe “one step away” from disaster.

“The (nuclear watchdog) IAEA and other international organisations must act much faster than they’re acting now. Because every minute the Russian troops stay at the nuclear power plant is a risk of a global radiation disaster,” the president warned.

But local Russian-appointed governor Yevgeny Balitsky blamed the Ukrainian military for the strikes, accusing them of causing power outages to the region as a result.

Radiation levels nearby remained normal despite the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex losing its main power supply, local officials reported.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the plant “remained connected to a 330kV line from the nearby thermal power facility that can provide back-up electricity if needed”, citing Ukraine’s state nuclear agency.

But it added that all six nuclear reactor units remained disconnected from the power grid despite supplies having been restored later on Thursday.

Normally the nuclear plant supplies one-fifth of Ukraine’s total electricity – so its continued disconnection from the national grid could pose serious challenges for Ukraine.

The United Nations has warned that a ‘catastrophe’ for the world could happen if action to make the nuclear plant – the biggest in Europe – safe.

And after Thursday’s scare, UN chiefs on Friday said they were now ‘determined’ to visit the site.

“Almost every day there is a new incident at or near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. We can’t afford to lose any more time,” IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said in a statement, repeating his call to lead an international mission to the plant in the next few days.

“I’m determined to personally lead an IAEA mission to the plant in the next few days.”

The Kremlin has signalled it will allow international inspectors to visit the complex – but until that happens it is difficult to verify what is happening on the ground.

But an advisor to the Ukraine government on Friday said Russian soldiers must leave the nuclear plant in order to guarantee safety.

Yuriy Sak warned: “Our personnel is trying everything they can in the circumstances to ensure it functions uninterruptedly … The power plant poses a risk to the whole of Europe.”

Asked about updates on whether Russia will allow international inspectors onto the plant site, he added: “We have claims by the Russian side that they will allow this inspection – we hope that they honour that commitment but the ultimate solution is not just admitting the inspection … the ultimate solution is the complete demilitarisation of the nuclear plant,

[and] making sure that the Russian soldiers leave Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. This will be the only guarantee that nothing major happens.”

Thursday’s scare also prompted the US to accuse Russia of turning the plant into a ‘war zone’.

State department spokesman Vedant Patel said: “The electricity that it produces rightly belongs to Ukraine and any attempt to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and redirect to occupied areas is unacceptable.

“No country should turn a nuclear power plant into an active war zone and we oppose any Russian efforts to weaponise or divert energy from the plant.”

The nuclear site has been occupied by Russian military forces since early March but continues to be operated by Ukrainian nuclear technicians.

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