Russia and Ukraine exchange accusations about attacks on nuclear plants

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia and Ukraine traded accusations Monday that both sides are bombing Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. Russia claimed Ukrainian shelling caused a power surge and fire and forced staff to cut output at two reactors, while Ukraine blamed Russian troops for storing weapons there.

Nuclear experts have warned that a further bombing of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which was seized by Russia earlier in the war, is fraught with danger.

The Kremlin echoed that Monday, claiming that Kyiv was attacking the plant and urging Western powers to stop it.

“The shelling of the territory of the nuclear plant by the Ukrainian armed forces is very dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “It is fraught with catastrophic consequences for vast territories, for all of Europe.”

Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov responded that Russian forces planted explosives at the plant to prevent an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region. Earlier, Ukrainian officials said Russia is launching attacks from the plant and using Ukrainian workers there as human shields.

Yusov called on Russia to “make a goodwill gesture and hand over control of the plant to an international commission and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), if not to the Ukrainian military.”

The Ombudsman of Ukraine, Dmytro Lubinets, also urged the United Nations, the IAEA and the international community to send a delegation to “completely demilitarize the territory” and provide security guarantees to the employees of the plant and the city where it is located. the plant, Enerhodar.

The IAEA is the UN nuclear watchdog. Its director general, Rafael Grossi, told The Associated Press last week that the situation around the Zaporizhzhia plant “is completely out of control,” and issued an urgent call for Russia and Ukraine to allow experts to visit the complex. to stabilize the situation and prevent a nuclear accident.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced support for that idea on Monday, saying “any attack on a nuclear plant is suicidal.”

A nuclear materials expert at Imperial College London said the Zaporizhzhia reactor is modern and housed inside a heavily reinforced concrete and steel building designed to protect against disasters.

“As such, I don’t think there’s a high probability that the containment building will breach, even if it was accidentally hit by an explosive shell, and even less likely that the reactor itself could be damaged,” said Mark Wenman at Futures. university nuclear power.

He also said the complex’s spent fuel tanks, where the shells allegedly landed, are strong and probably don’t contain much spent fuel.

“Although it may seem worrying, and any combat on a nuclear site would be illegal under international law, the probability of a serious nuclear release is still small,” he said.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday’s attack caused a power surge and smoke, prompting a lockdown. Fire crews extinguished the flames and plant personnel reduced the power of reactors No. 5 and No. 6 to 500 megawatts, he said.

And the head of the Ukrainian company that operates the plant said all but one of the power lines connecting it to Ukraine’s power system had been destroyed. Petro Kotin, head of the Ukrainian state corporation Eherhoatom, blamed the Russian bombing, saying a blackout would be “very unsafe for a nuclear facility of this type.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced “the bombing and mining” of the plant, calling it “nuclear blackmail.” He called for sanctions against Moscow’s nuclear industry.

As fighting on the front lines continued, the United States pledged another $1 billion in new military aid to Ukraine on Monday. It would be the largest delivery yet of rockets, ammunition and other weapons directly from US Department of Defense stockpiles to Ukrainian forces.

The latest announcement brings the total US security assistance committed to Ukraine by the Biden administration to $9.1 billion since Russian troops invaded on February 24.

Ukraine’s presidential office said the Russians had shelled seven Ukrainian regions over the previous 24 hours, killing five people. Among the targets, he said, was Nikopol, across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia plant. Thousands of people lost power there.

Russian rockets and artillery also hit the Sumy region, killing one person, and the Ukrainian governor of the eastern Donetsk region said the towns of Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Lyman had emerged as critical points of fighting.

Ukrainian forces attacked Russian-held areas in the south, officials there said, including the strategic Antonivskiy Bridge in the southern city of Kherson. An artery for Russian military supplies, the bridge has been closed in recent weeks due to previous bombing. Plans to reopen it on Wednesday have now been shelved, said Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-appointed administration of the Kherson region.

Meanwhile, one of the ships that left Ukraine on Friday under a deal to unlock grain supplies and avert a global food crisis has arrived in Turkey, the first loaded ship to reach its destination. The Turkish-flagged Polarnet was loaded with 12,000 tons of corn.

“This sends a message of hope to every family in the Middle East, Africa and Asia: Ukraine will not abandon you,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “If Russia fulfills its obligations, the ‘grain corridor’ will continue to maintain global food security.”

Twelve ships have now been authorized to sail under the Ukraine-Russia grain deal, which was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations: 10 outbound and two inbound. Some 322,000 metric tons of agricultural products have left Ukrainian ports, most of it corn but also sunflower and soybean oil.

Four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday were expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday night to be inspected to make sure they were only carrying food.

However, the first cargo ship to leave Ukraine, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, which left Odessa on August 1, had a delivery problem. It was headed to Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed, but the buyer of the corn in Lebanon refused to accept the shipment as it was delivered much later than stipulated in the contract, the Ukrainian embassy said in a statement. Beirut.

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Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut, Mehmet Guzel in Derince, Turkey, and Andrew Wilks in Istanbul contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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