Ukraine warned that Russian strikes against a nuclear power plant could equate to “the use of an atomic bomb” after Russian shelling caused damage to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP) on Friday.
Russia launched its invasion of the Eastern European country in late February, claiming it was to “liberate” the separatist Donbas region and rid the Ukrainian government of Nazis—even though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish. More than five months into the war, the stronger-than-anticipated Ukrainian defense has forced fighting to be concentrated in Eastern Ukraine, which is home to Europe’s largest nuclear facility, the Zaporizhzhia NPP.
Concerns the Russian military may cause damage to the plant, therefore raising the risk of a nuclear crisis, have been ongoing since March, when Moscow’s troops seized the plant and shelling began. These concerns were renewed Friday when troops allegedly opened fire at the plant again.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement Friday condemning the alleged shooting, warning that any action taken against the plant could have potentially devastating effects.
“The possible consequences of hitting an operating reactor are equivalent to the use of an atomic bomb,” the ministry wrote, adding that Russia moved military trucks and SUVs filled with weapons to the plant earlier this month.
The alleged shelling caused damage to the plant’s high-voltage supply line, the statement said. It also damaged the plant’s nitrogen-oxygen station and “combined auxiliary building,” according to Ukrainian-state nuclear power company Energoatom.
The attacks also led to a risk of hydrogen leakage, sputtering of radioactive substances, and a high danger of fire, the company said.
Zelensky said in a national speech that any shelling of the facility is an “open, brazen crime,” and that “Russia should bear responsibility for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant.”
International Concern Over Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant
Russia’s actions at the NPP have drawn international rebuke. In the months following the invasion, other world leaders have raised concerns about a lack of justification for invading as well as reports surrounding war crimes.
The American Nuclear Society on Wednesday called on Russia to remove missiles from the NPP, adding that its behavior “violated international humanitarian law,” which bans attacks on plants and the use of human shields to avoid attacks.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the situation has violated “every principle of nuclear safety.”
“What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous,” he said.
Ukraine pointed out that the attacks on the plant came just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had no intentions of using nuclear weapons during remarks to the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons—where he said there would be no winners in a nuclear war, despite months of Moscow taunting the West over the possibility.
Newsweek reached out to the Russian foreign affairs ministry for comment