Russian Shelling Sparks Fire at Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant; Zelensky: ‘Europe Needs to Wake Up’

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine in the largest of its kind in Europe. (Photo: National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom)

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine in the largest of its kind in Europe. (Photo: National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom)

( – Russian forces shelled Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant early on Friday, igniting a fire and prompting the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to appeal for an end to the assault and to warn of “severe danger” if the reactors were struck.

President Biden discussed the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone, joining him in “urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” the White House said.

Biden also received an update from Jill Hruby, undersecretary for nuclear security at the Energy Department and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a series of tweets that she had spoken to her Ukrainian counterpart about the situation.

“We have seen no elevated radiation readings near the facility,” she said. “The plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down.”

Granholm said her department had activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team and was monitoring events in consultation with the White House, Pentagon and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease.”

With six reactors, Zaporizhzhia is situated on the banks of the Dnieper River, about 280 miles southeast of Kyiv, and accounts for one-fifth of the country’s average annual electricity production.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (Photo: National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom)

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (Photo: National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom)

In a video clip posted on his Twitter account, Zelensky issued a stark warning that the Russian assault could lead to a nuclear catastrophe.  Part of his message reads:

“Europe needs to wake up. The biggest nuclear power plant in Europe is on fire right now.

“Russian tanks are shooting at the nuclear blocks (reactors). These are tanks equipped with thermal imagers, so they know what they are shooting at. They have prepared for it.

“I am addressing all Ukrainians, all Europeans and everyone who knows the word ‘Chernobyl,’ who knows how many casualties were inflicted by the explosion at the nuclear plant.

“This was a global catastrophe and its consequences were battled by hundreds of thousands of people.

“Tens of thousands had to be evacuated and Russia wants to repeat that and is already repeating it, but six times bigger.

“Europeans, wake up please. Tell your politicians, Russian forces are shooting at the nuclear plant in Ukraine.”


The IAEA said it had placed its incident and emergency center in “full 24/7 response mode” due to the “serious situation” at Zaporizhzhia.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said Director-General Rafael Grossi had spoken to Ukraine’s nuclear regulator and operator, and that he “appeals for halt of use of force and warns of severe danger if reactors hit.”

It said Ukrainian authorities reported that the fire had not affected “essential” equipment, and that personnel at the plant were “taking mitigatory actions.”

On Thursday, Grossi reported having received word from Ukraine’s regulatory authority that Russian infantry troops were advancing towards the site.

He urged military forces in the area to “refrain from violence near the nuclear power plant.”

“The IAEA continues to consult with Ukraine and others with a view to provide maximum possible assistance to the country as it seeks to maintain nuclear safety and security in the current

difficult circumstances.”

Last week the Ukraine government reported that Russian forces had taken control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site north of Kyiv of a major nuclear disaster in 1986.

The explosion at the reactor, attributed to human error, sent radioactive particles across a huge area, affecting the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of people.

Grossi said on Thursday that Ukraine had informed the IAEA that Chernobyl staff who kept on at the plant after the Russians took control were facing “psychological pressure and moral exhaustion.”

The IAEA chief said they must be allowed to rest and rotate, to enable them to carry out their crucial work safely.

The IAEA said the plant “has been undergoing decommissioning since the (1986) accident and significant amounts of nuclear material remain in various facilities at the site in the form of spent fuel and other radioactive waste.”

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