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Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on fire as Russian shelling continues in Ukraine

Hong Kong/Melbourne: Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in eastern Ukraine came under attack from Russian shelling early Friday, Ukrainian officials said, raising the stakes in Vladimir Putin’s invasion as his forces bombarded cities across the nation.

Ukraine told the International Atomic Energy Agency the fire “has not affected ‘essential’ equipment,” and that there had been no change reported in radiation levels. The reactors are “being protected by robust containment structures” and are being safely shut down, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement, which added that the department activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team.

President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as reports emerged about the attack, and the leaders called on Russia “to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” according to a White House statement.

“Europe must wake up,” Zelenskiy said in a video message early Friday, adding that he also spoke with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other leaders in addition to Biden. “Russian tanks are firing at the nuclear power station, the biggest one in Europe.”

“If there is an explosion, it is the end of Europe,” Zelenskiy added. “Only urgent Europe actions can stop Russian troops.”

Knee-jerk losses in equity markets moderated as traders assessed the severity of the situation at the facility. S&P 500 Index futures were trading 0.6% lower, after earlier falling 1.7%. Gold erased gains as demand for haven assets eased.

Mariano Grossi, the IAEA’s director general, spoke with Ukrainian authorities about the nuclear power plant and warned of “severe danger” if its reactors were hit.

Confirmation from regulators that radiation levels around the site are normal, and reports that an initial fire was in an administrative building, suggest a major disaster isn’t imminent, Rose Gottemoeller, a former NATO deputy secretary general, told Bloomberg Television in an interview.

“That does not in any way excuse the Russian troops for firing on this nuclear power plant facility and endangering not only Ukraine and the surrounding countries, but really Russia itself should there be some kind of explosion,” Gottemoeller said. “It’s one of those fratricidal situations that nobody, not even Vladimir Putin, should wish for.”

Zaporizhzhia power plant in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar is home to six Soviet-designed 950-megawatt reactors built between 1984 and 1995, with capacity of 5.7 gigawatts, enough to power more than 4 million homes. The site accounts for about 20% of the country’s electricity, according to its website.

Phone calls to the power plant didn’t connect, and plant officials didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the situation.

If shelling had occurred, the reactors should switch off automatically, said Mark Nelson, managing director of Radiant Energy Fund, which advises non-profits and industry about nuclear energy.

“How worried should we be? Not worried, if we’re talking about health impacts outside of the plant,” said Nelson. “If the plant’s emergency responses have been disabled, which would almost certainly take more than incidental firing with light weapons, then the worst we can expect is a contained “TMI” style accident,” he said, referring to the 1979 Three-Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania.

In the days leading up to the strike, the International Atomic Energy Agency had called for a 30-kilometer exclusion zone surrounding all of the Ukraine reactors, and the IAEA and World Association of Nuclear Operators had appealed to armed combatants to refrain from military actions near the country’s plants. Ukraine had also asked for NATO help to secure the air space above the 15 operating reactors.- Bloomberg

Also read: Save our nuclear plants from Russia, Ukraine seeks help from UN nuke watchdog

Source: The Print

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