UN chief warns of 'catastrophic consequences' as Russia shells nuclear power plant
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday renewed his plea for an end to all military activity around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine after it was reported that fresh shelling has damaged multiple radiation sensors.
Any damage to Europe's largest nuclear power plant could lead to "catastrophic consequences" in the region and beyond, Guterres said in a statement issued ahead of an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss security at the site.
Ukraine and Russia should proceed with "common sense and reason" to avoid doing anything "that might endanger the physical integrity, safety, or security" of the sprawling facility, he said.
"Urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area," he added.
Guterres' comments came after Energoatom, Ukraine's state-owned nuclear power enterprise, said that missiles exploded near one of the plant's six reactors, damaging "several radiation sensors" and causing "extensive smoke."
As they did last weekend amid shelling that Guterres denounced as "suicidal," Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for the new strikes at the plant, which is being operated by Ukrainian technicians under the supervision of Russian soldiers who have controlled the region since March.
According to Reuters, which was unable to verify either side's account:
Ukraine's Energoatom said the plant's area was struck five times on Thursday, including near the site where radioactive materials are stored, but nobody were injured and radiation levels remained normal.
Meanwhile, the Russian-installed local officials said Ukraine shelled the plant for the second time in one day, disrupting the shift changeover of power plant workers.
Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-installed regional administration, also wrote on Telegram that at least three strikes were near the radioactive isotope storage facility.
Reiterating a demand that Guterres and other officials made just days ago, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday called for the International Atomic Energy Agency, a Vienna-based watchdog, to send inspectors to examine the safety situation at the plant as soon as possible.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, meanwhile, told Reuters that Zaporizhzhia "is as of today not only in the hands of the enemy, but in the hands of uneducated specialists who could potentially allow for a tragedy to happen."
"Of course, it's difficult to even imagine the scale of the tragedy which could come into effect if Russians continue their actions there," he said. "We have to prepare for any scenario. The state emergency services together with the interior ministry and the regions ministry is discussing different scenarios that are needed, including the question of evacuations."
Linda Pentz Gunter, international specialist at Beyond Nuclear, warned earlier this week that "if even just one of the six operational reactors [at Zaporizhzhia] suffered catastrophic damage and released its radioactive inventory we are talking about a humanitarian disaster that would dwarf Chernobyl."
Radioactive contamination from that 1986 nuclear accident in what is now Ukraine left an area of more than 1,000 square miles uninhabitable and caused the illnesses and deaths of potentially hundreds of thousands of people.
According to experts from Beyond Nuclear and elsewhere, reactors at Zaporizhzhia "contain far more radioactivity, both in the working reactors and in the irradiated fuel pools, than was present at the relatively new Chernobyl Unit 4 when it exploded."
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