Europe scared after Russian-Ukrainian war hits nuclear sites

Kyiv: A fire at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant sparked by Russian bombing has been extinguished, Ukrainian authorities announced on Friday, and Russian forces have taken control of the site.

It was feared the blaze could spread to nuclear reactors and leak radiation, but international observers said on Friday morning that no change in radiation levels had been recorded so far.

Russian troops had attacked the Zaporizhzhia factory in the early hours of Friday; a fierce firefight ensued between Putin’s troops and Ukrainian forces which started a fire in a six-story training building just outside the main compound. Russian soldiers then blocked firefighters from accessing the building for several hours, Western media reported.

Moscow has tried to deny responsibility for the assault, saying its forces were attacked by Ukrainian “saboteurs” while patrolling the factory, who then set the building on fire themselves.

There is a spent nuclear fuel storage facility at the site, although there is no sign that it has been hit by bombing.

The assault led to frantic phone calls between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden and other world leaders. The US Department of Energy has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team as a precaution.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has accused Russia of “threatening the security of all of Europe”. He also called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in the “next hours” to raise the issue of Russia’s attack on the nuclear power plant.

President Zelensky called it “nuclear terrorism” and said the attack could have caused a crisis equivalent to “six Chernobyls” – possibly alluding to the fact that the plant has six reactors. In an emotional speech in the middle of the night, Zelenskyy said he feared it was “the end of Europe”.

Ukraine is home to three other active nuclear power plants, one of which is located 70 miles from the town of Mykolaiv which Russian forces began attacking after taking nearby Kherson. The other two active sites are located to the west and are not currently under threat, although this may change as the Russian attack unfolds. Ukraine also has five sites that are out of service, including Chernobyl, but could still pose a risk if hit by shells, according to Western media.

Nuclear experts told the BBC the attacks on Zaporizhzhia were “frightening”, but any disaster caused by the fighting would be similar to Fukushima in 2011 rather than Chernobyl in 1986. Fukushima, Japan, melted after a tsunami cut power to the plant, disabling its cooling system. Chernobyl exploded after a training exercise gone wrong caused a runaway nuclear reaction.

Russia’s war on Ukraine is now entering its ninth day and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon after talks between the two sides broke down without a deal, before Vladimir Putin went on TV to say that he would continue to fight for “total victory”.

According to The New York Times, across Ukraine, Russian forces are advancing, besieging cities and trying to control vital ports. Continued Russian gains in the south could make it harder for the Ukrainian military to fight in other parts of the country.

Dozens of protesters chanting “NATO, act now!” stood outside the headquarters of the Atlantic military alliance in Brussels as foreign ministers met over the Russian invasion. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace – an escalation that NATO is resisting for fear of dragging member states into conflict direct.

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Posted: Friday, March 4, 2022, 11:31 PM IST

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