Zaporizhia: IAEA warns whoever is behind ‘powerful explosions’ at nuclear power plant is ‘playing with fire’



CNN

Violent explosions rocked Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant this weekend, reviving concerns that fighting so close to the plant could cause a nuclear accident.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi said whoever was responsible for the attacks was “playing with fire,” echoing a warning he issued in September.

IAEA experts at the facility said more than a dozen explosions were heard in a short space of time Sunday morning local time, the nuclear watchdog said in a statement. Firing was observed both near and on the premises of the plant. IAEA officials could even see some explosions from their windows, the nuclear watchdog said.

“Whoever is behind this must stop immediately,” Grossi added.

Based on information from plant management, the IAEA team said damage had occurred to some buildings, systems and equipment at the plant site, “but none of this has been critical to nuclear safety and security so far,” the agency said. There were no reports of casualties.

Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for the attacks.

Ukraine’s national nuclear energy company, Energoatom, said it appeared Russian forces were trying to impede the country’s ability to provide electricity to its citizens. The Kremlin has conducted a campaign of bombings and airstrikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure in recent weeks, aimed at crippling Kiev’s ability to heat its residents as winter approaches.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the explosions in Zaporizhia were the result of artillery fire from the Ukrainian military.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russian forces of storing heavy weapons at the complex and using them as cover for attacks, knowing Ukraine cannot return fire without risking hitting one of the plant’s reactors.

CNN is unable to verify the claims made by Energoatom or the Russian government.

Grossi and the IAEA have repeatedly called on both sides to establish a nuclear safe zone around Zaporizhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Grossi took part in “intensive consultations with Ukraine and Russia on the establishment of such a zone, but so far without an agreement,” the IAEA said.

Skirmishes near Zaporizhzhia have been intermittent since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February and seized the plant days later. Intense shelling near the complex this summer sparked concerns of a nuclear accident, prompting the IAEA to send a team there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in October federalizing the plant, located about 120 kilometers from the city in Russian-held territory on the Dnipro River. The move sparked concerns about the fate of Ukrainian technicians who have operated the plant since it was occupied by Russian forces.

The blasts on Saturday and Sunday ended what the IAEA described as a “relative period of calm.”

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