Ukraine war: Russian shelling forced Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor to shut down, says Energoatom

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews  with AP, AFP, Reuters
A Ukrainian Emergency Ministry rescuer attends an exercise in Zaporizhzhia on 17 August, 2022, in case of a possible nuclear incident at the nuclear plant.
A Ukrainian Emergency Ministry rescuer attends an exercise in Zaporizhzhia on 17 August, 2022, in case of a possible nuclear incident at the nuclear plant.   -  Copyright  DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP

Russia and Ukraine accused each other of waging attacks on Thursday near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, causing one of its reactors to shut down just as a team of UN inspectors came in for a visit.

Ukrainian nuclear energy operator Energoatom said Russian shelling was to blame for the reactor at the Zaporizhzhia power plant in southern Ukraine coming offline early Thursday.

"The emergency system was activated and Unit Number 5 shut down" at  2:57 am CET, Energoatom said in a statement on Telegram.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team arrived safely at the plant on Thursday afternoon, Energoatom confirmed.

Earlier in the day, Russian troops were also said to be shelling the team's route, Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the Zaporizhzhia region, said.

"The Russians are shelling the pre-agreed route of the IAEA mission from Zaporizhzhia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The UN advance team cannot continue to move due to security reasons," Starukh wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly warned that Moscow troops were intentionally bombarding the roads to the plant in order to force the team to come in from the direction of Russian-occupied areas.

In turn, the Kremlin accused Kyiv of attempting to seize the plant on Thursday, claiming that "measures had been taken" to destroy the Ukrainian troops -- estimated to amount to some 60 soldiers -- including the use of military aviation.

A group of inspectors from the IAEA, led by its director Rafael Grossi, decided to proceed with their planned inspection of the site on Thursday despite significant security concerns.

“There has been increased military activity, including this morning, until very recently,” Grossi said, adding that after being briefed by the Ukrainian military, he decided to get moving despite the inherent risks. “But weighing the pros and cons and having come so far, we are not stopping.”

He noted that the risks are “very, very high” in the so-called grey zone between Ukrainian and Russian positions, but “we consider that we have the minimum conditions to move.”

Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, has been occupied by Russian forces but run by Ukrainian engineers since the early days of the 6-month-old war. 

Ukraine alleges Russia is using the plant as a shield, storing weapons there and launching attacks from around it, while Moscow accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing on the area, raising the threat of a nuclear disaster that may affect the entire continent.