‘Dear Ukrainians! And all people of the world: everyone! I emphasise this,’ Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised speech yesterday. Russia, he said, is planning a ‘terrorist attack’ using radiation leakage at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest. Ukrainian intelligence repeatedly warned that Russian forces have sown mines in the plant, as it appears that they did with the Nova-Kakhovka dam. Ukrainians are gripped by an unsettling sense of déjà vu, fearing that the nuclear plant, which is under Russian control, will inevitably suffer the same fate.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been under Russian control since last March and has served as a safe facility for weapons and ammunition storage. Ukrainian forces wouldn’t dare to shell the nuclear plant for fear of turning the region into a second Chernobyl. Now Kyiv is afraid that Russia will blow up the plant to frustrate the Ukrainian counter-offensive. However, Ukraine’s allies, apart from expressing condemnation, have yet to take the actions that the president appealed for in further speeches. Zelensky called on the intelligence services of Ukraine’s allies to ‘give appropriate signals, put pressure on [Russia]’ to prevent any radiation incident and to implement harsher sanctions.
International efforts to establish a demilitarised zone around the nuclear plant have failed so far: Russia does not want to abandon a facility it can use as blackmail against Kyiv. Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, visited the plant last week to evaluate ‘new risks’. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s report described the nuclear safety and security situation at the plant as ‘extremely fragile’. It confirmed that mines are positioned outside the plant perimeter and at ‘at particular places’ inside. When asked why, Russian forces cited defensive purposes.
The nuclear plant was built to withstand earthquakes, flooding and has a protective cover designed to ensure that in case of any accidents inside or outside the power unit, all radioactive substances remain inside.