Russian forces fired two missiles close to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant early this morning, sparking fears that a fresh nuclear disaster akin to Chernobyl could be triggered if fighting in the area continues.
A statement released by Ukrainian state nuclear agency Energoatom said the cruise missiles flew at low altitude at 6:41am and 6:44am, soaring over the power plant and impacting targets in Zaporizhzhia city centre a short distance away.
Zaporizhzhia is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (ZNPP), which contains six nuclear reactors besides other nuclear facilities.
But it was captured in the early days of the Russian invasion and has remained in occupied territory, serving as a military base for Putin‘s forces.
‘The flight of missiles at low altitudes directly above the ZNPP site, where nuclear facilities with a huge amount of nuclear material are located, poses huge risks,’ said Energoatom chief Petro Kotin.
‘After all, missiles can hit one or more nuclear facilities, and this threatens a nuclear radiation catastrophe which will be felt around the world.’
Zaporizhzhia’s Regional Military Administation reported at least one person was killed and one injured in the attack, which it said ‘destroyed the infrastructure of an enterprise in the city’.
A third missile was shot down by Ukrainian air defences and landed in a field on the outskirts of the city.
Six power units generate 40-42 billion kWh of electricity, making the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant the largest nuclear power plant not only in Ukraine, but also in Europe
A view shows a damaged administrative building of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on March 4. Russian forces shelled the power plant as they attempted to wrest control of it from the defenders
Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs adviser Anton Gerashchenko echoed a warning given by Energoatom chief Petro Konin about the dangers of continued missile strikes and fighting near the nuclear power plant
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at a press conference about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in Vienna, Austria, Friday, March 4, 2022. Russian shelling caused a fire in an administrative building close to the reactors
Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs adviser Anton Gerashchenko said of the incident: ‘This morning two cruise missiles flew above #Zaporizhzhia atomic plant towards the city at a low height. Later explosions were heard in Zaporizhzhia.
‘Rockets flying low directly above the plant which has [six] nuclear reactors and a lot of nuclear material is extremely risky,’ he posted on Twitter.
Fears that a nuclear catastrophe could occur at the ZNPP were first sparked on March 3, when Russian forces attempting to wrest control of the plant from the Ukrainian defenders shelled the facility.
Video footage of the incident shows a training building located a stone’s throw from the nuclear reactors catching fire while plant workers pleaded with the invaders over the loudspeaker to stop shelling the location.
Today’s warning of the potential consequences of armed conflict in close proximity to the nuclear power plant comes on the 36th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident.
On April 26, 1986, a reactor at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the north of what was then Soviet Ukraine went into meltdown and exploded.
Huge clouds of radioactive smoke and dust were spread from the reactor, prompting mass evacuations from the nearby town of Pripyat where families of the plant’s staff lived and the creation of an exclusion zone which remains in place to this day.
A total of 28 staff members and emergency workers died from radiation poisoning in the days following the explosion, as well as two workers who were killed instantly in the blast.
But studies conducted in the years following the disaster discovered a considerable increase in incidences of thyroid cancer among the population who lived near the plant.
According to a United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) report, there had been almost 20,000 cases of thyroid cancer reported in children and adolescents who were exposed at the time of the accident between 1991-2015.
On April 26, 1986, a reactor at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the north of what was then Soviet Ukraine went into meltdown and exploded. Huge clouds of radioactive smoke and dust were spread from the reactor, prompting mass evacuations from the nearby town of Pripyat where families of the plant’s staff lived and the creation of an exclusion zone which remains in place to this day (a steel containment dome is seen above the remains of the reactor)
A total of 28 staff members and emergency workers died from radiation poisoning in the days following the explosion, as well as two workers who were killed instantly in the blast. But studies conducted in the years following the disaster discovered a considerable increase in incidences of thyroid cancer among the population who lived near the plant (exclusion zone in Chernobyl pictured)
Meanwhile, Energoatom said Russian troops, who have occupied the Zaporizhzhia plant since March 4, were keeping heavy equipment and ammunition on the site.
‘Thirty-six years after the Chernobyl tragedy, Russia exposes the whole world to the danger of a repeat of the nuclear catastrophe!’ it said.
Russia did not immediately comment on Energoatom’s statement.
It has previously offered safety assurances about Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities since launching what it says is a ‘special military operation’ on February 24.
Russian troops also occupied the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power station soon after invading Ukraine but withdrew in late March as Putin’s forces geared up for redeployment in a new, targeted offensive in the eastern Donbas region.
Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visited Chernobyl on Tuesday.