By Uganda Online Media Correspondent
Russian forces have captured Europe’s largest nuclear power plant after attacking it overnight Friday, which started at least one fire, officials said as the invasion into Ukraine entered its second week. The blaze was extinguished by Ukrainian firefighters, according to Ukrainian and UN officials.
The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, near the town of Energodar, was occupied by Russian military troops after confirming no changes to radiation levels following intense fighting and shelling at the station.
The attacks sparked a fire at a nearby administrative building outside the station’s perimeter, officials confirmed. The fire was extinguished hours later but still led to growing concerns about radiation levels and a potential nuclear event.
The world’s leading nuclear authorities said they were concerned but not panicked about the damage to the power station, which supplies about one-quarter of Ukraine’s power generation.
The Ukrainian regulator said staff at the station was ensuring its safe operation and the state of the six power units, only one of which was in operation. The rest were either offline or being cooled down.
Ukrainian firefighters on Friday extinguished a blaze at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant that was ignited by a Russian attack and no radiation was released, U.N. and Ukrainian officials said, as Russian forces pressed their campaign to cripple the country despite global condemnation.
The head of the United Nations’ atomic agency said that a Russian “projectile” hit a training center at the Zaporizhzhia plant. Ukrainian officials have said Russian troops took control of the overall site, but the plant’s staff are continuing to ensure its operations. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that Russian forces were at the plant, but the Ukrainians were in control.
Ukraine’s state nuclear plant operator Enerhoatom said that three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two wounded in the attack. Grossi said two people were injured in the blaze that broke out.
Ukraine’s state nuclear regulator earlier said that no changes in radiation levels have been recorded so far after the plant came under attack. Grossi later said no radioactive material was released’
A live video feed of the overnight fighting showed one building aflame, and a volley of incoming shells, before a large candescent ball lit up the sky, exploding beside a car park and sending smoke billowing across the compound.
“Europeans, please wake up. Tell your politicians, Russian troops are shooting at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address while warning of a potentially catastrophic disaster.
Zelenskyy said Russian tanks had shot at the nuclear reactor plants, though there was no evidence cited that they had been hit.
Energodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov said in an online post that there had been fierce fighting between local forces and Russian troops on the town’s outskirts before the plant itself had been attacked, adding that there had been casualties without giving details.
Ukraine’s state emergency services agency later confirmed a fire had broken out at a training building outside the plant perimeter. Constant shelling prevented firefighters from accessing the fire for hours, with the fire finally getting extinguished after dawn broke.
There were no casualties, the agency confirmed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it had been informed by Ukrainian officials that no “essential” equipment at the station was affected by the attacks or resulting fires. It added Ukrainian regulators have indicated there has been no change in radiation levels.
Nuclear plant spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that shells had fallen directly on the facility and had set fire to one of its six reactors. That reactor is under renovation and not operating, but there is nuclear fuel inside, he said.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that Russian forces had been “firing from all sides” of the plant. He called on the Russians to establish a security zone and allow firefighters through.
The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden had spoken to Zelenskyy about the situation at the plant and urged Russia to stop all military activities in the area.
Biden is also in touch with U.S. energy officials about the situation, the White House statement added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke with Zelenskyy along with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“These unacceptable attacks by Russia must cease immediately,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who also spoke with Zelenskyy, condemned the Russian attack and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, his press office said. Russia currently chairs the council.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said on Twitter the reactors at the Zaporizhzhia station “are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down.” She said she had spoken with her Ukrainian counterpart about the situation.
Early reports of the incident at the power plant sent financial markets in Asia spiraling, with stocks tumbling and oil prices surging further.
The video showed flames and black smoke rising above Energodar, a city of more than 50,000, with people streaming past wrecked cars, just a day after the U.N. atomic watchdog agency expressed grave concern that the fighting could cause accidental damage to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors.
Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. Some analysts noted the Zaporizhzhia plant is of a different and safer type to Chernobyl.
The invasion of Ukraine is entering its ninth day. Thousands are thought to have died or been wounded as the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two unfolds, creating 1 million refugees, hits to Russia’s economy, and fears of wider conflict in the West unthought-of for decades.
On Thursday, Russia and Ukraine negotiators agreed to the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape and to deliver medicines and food to the areas where fighting was the fiercest.