Alert about attacks on power plant in Ukraine

International alarm over the shelling of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear complex grew as Kiev and Moscow marketed blame for the attacks.

UN chief Antonio Guterres, who called any attack on a nuclear power plant a “suicidal affair”, demanded Monday that UN nuclear inspectors be allowed access.

The largest complex of its kind in Europe, Zaporizhzhya is located in a southern region occupied by Russian invaders in March when it was attacked without damage to the reactors. The area is now being targeted by Ukraine for a counter-offensive.

Kiev called for the area around the factory to be demilitarized and for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, to enter.

Russia’s foreign ministry said it also favored an IAEA visit, which accused Ukraine of blocking as it tried to “take Europe hostage” by shelling the factory.

Ukraine blamed Russia for weekend attacks around the complex, which is still run by Ukrainian technicians. It said three radiation sensors were damaged and two workers were injured by shrapnel.

Reuters was unable to verify either side’s version.

Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear power company Energoatom, called for peacekeepers to be deployed to the Zaporizhzhya site, returning operational control to Ukraine.

He pointed out the danger of grenades hitting containers with highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel. If two or more were broken, it was “impossible to judge the magnitude” of the resulting disaster.

“Such insane actions could lead to the situation spiraling out of control and it will be a Fukushima or Chornobyl,” Kotin said.

dr. Mark Wenman, a nuclear expert at Imperial College London, downplayed the risk of a major incident, saying the Zaporizhzhya reactors were relatively robust and protected the spent nuclear fuel.

“While it may seem disconcerting, all fighting at a nuclear site would be illegal, the chances of a serious nuclear release are still slim,” he said in a statement.

Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the IAEA, said Zaporizhzhya personnel “worked under the barrels of Russian cannons”. He this month called for a UN-led mission to the Soviet-era factory.

Russia’s defense ministry, meanwhile, said Ukrainian attacks had damaged the power lines serving the plant and forced the plant to cut production at two of its six reactors to avoid “disruption.”

UN Guterres said IAEA personnel needed access to “create conditions for stabilization”.

“Any attack (on) a nuclear power plant is a suicidal affair,” he told a news conference in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima peace commemoration ceremony on Saturday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bomb.

The worst civilian nuclear disaster in the world occurred in 1986 when a reactor at the Chornobyl complex in northwestern Ukraine exploded. Shortly after the invasion of February 24 this year, Russian troops occupied that place and withdrew at the end of March.

Ukraine has said it plans to launch a major counter-offensive in the Russian-occupied south, apparently targeting the city of Kherson, west of Zaporizhzhya, and has already recaptured dozens of villages.

In Washington, the Pentagon increased its military aid pledges to Ukraine by pledging $1 billion in additional security assistance, including ammunition for long-range weapons.

Russia’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, told the United States it was suspending inspection activities under its START nuclear arms control treaty, though it said Moscow continued to abide by the treaty’s terms.

An agreement to unblock Ukraine’s food exports and reduce global shortages was bolstered by a rare diplomatic success since the start of the war, when two grain ships carrying nearly 59,000 tons of corn and soybeans left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

That brought the total to 12 since the first ship left a week ago.

Before the invasion, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.

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