An attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine would be “akin to Chernobyl”, an expert has warned, as Russia and Ukraine suggest an attack from the other side is imminent.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy told French President Emmanuel Macron that “the occupation troops are preparing dangerous provocations at the Zaporizhzhia”.
Ukrainian armed forces stated on Telegram that operational data suggested explosive devices had been planted on the power station’s roof. “If detonated, they would not damage the reactors but would create an image of shelling from the Ukrainian side,” they said.
Conversely, Russia claimed that Ukraine was planning to sell the plant in the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar amid long-running fears over a nuclear disaster at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
“Under cover of darkness overnight on July 5, the Ukrainian military will try to attack the Zaporizhzhia station using long-range precision equipment and kamikaze attack drones,” said Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of the Russian nuclear network Rosenergoatom.
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An attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant attack would be “akin” to another Chornobyl, with radiation potentially spreading to the West, one of Britain’s foremost military experts has warned.
Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Russia has left apparent “explosives” on the plant, the largest in Europe.
Some residents close to the plant have fled amid concern this could herald a ‘false flag’ operation on the plant, which has been in Russian hands since February 2022.
Professor Michael Clarke, a visiting professor at King’s College London, said that if an explosion were to disturb the plant’s reactors, “it would be something akin to Chernobyl in 1986.”
“If they exploded, it would still cause damage, and they will probably overheat, even in their passive state, so there will be some nuclear fallout.
“And then it depends on which way the wind is blowing. It might blow over Russia, but equally, it might blow over the West, Western Europe.”
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Professor Clarke added: “We’ve reached the point now of maximum fear. But are they mad enough to do it? Yes, they are.”
Ukraine and Russia have often accused each other of planning to attack the power plant and risking nuclear catastrophe.
On Tuesday night, in his national address, Volodymyr Zelensky said: “We have information from our intelligence that the Russian troops have placed objects resembling explosives on the roof of several power units of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
He said the apparent explosives had been positioned on the roof of several power units of the power plant.
The rhetoric has heightened concerns among residents living close to the plant, with Ukrainian officials issuing instructions on how to leave a radiation zone on Tuesday night on social media.
However, Russia has insisted that Ukraine is also plotting to attack the plant.
Renat Karchaa, an mentor to the head of Rosenergoatom, which operates Russia’s nuclear network, said Ukraine planned to drop ammunition laced with nuclear waste transported from another country’s five nuclear stations on the plant.
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“Under cover of darkness overnight on July 5, the Ukrainian military will try to attack the Zaporizhzhia station using long-range precision equipment and kamikaze attack drones,” Russian news agencies quoted Karchaa as telling Russian television.
He offered no evidence in support of his allegation.
The IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, has been trying for more than a year to clinch a deal to ensure the plant is demilitarized and reduce the risks of any nuclear accident.
Its director general Rafael Grossi has visited the plant three times since the Russian takeover but failed to reach any agreement to keep the facility safe from shelling.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has often raised concerns about the war in Ukraine, its threats to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP), and the risks it sees for the people living there.
Russia has controlled the ZNPP since March 2022, just weeks after the war started. The ZNPP is located in the country’s southeast on the banks of the Dnipro River.
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A month later, when the Kakhovka dam was blown up in June, the IAEA said the severe damage had led to “a significant reduction in the level of the lake used to supply cooling water to the ZNPP.”
The water is essential for cooling residual heat from the ZNPP reactors and its spent fuel ponds and cooling emergency diesel power generators at the site.
The explosion at the Kakhovka dam came after missile strikes in March 2023 had caused outages and left the plant running on those emergency diesel generators.
That backup power supply is vital for cooling reactor fuel at the plant and preventing a nuclear meltdown, which would release dangerous thermal energy and radiation into the atmosphere.
Grossi said on June 6 that there was “no immediate risk to the safety of the plant” and “several alternative sources of water.”
More than 1,500 people were reportedly forcibly evacuated by Russian forces in the area in May.