Wed. May 18th, 2022

A fire that broke out at Europe’s largest nuclear plant amid fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has been extinguished, officials said, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Moscow of resorting to “nuclear terror” in its ongoing assault on Kyiv.

Ukraine’s emergency services said the blaze occurred at a training building at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and was extinguished at 6:20 am local time [04:20 GMT] on Thursday.

“There are no victims,” ​​it said in a Facebook post.

Local authorities said Thursday’s fire did not affect “essential” equipment at the plant, which provides more than a fifth of total electricity generated in Ukraine, and did not cause an immediate rise in radiation levels.

The incident, however, prompted global concern with the United States and the United Kingdom calling for an end to fighting in the area.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “reckless actions” that he said “could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe” and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, while the US Department of Energy activated its nuclear incident response team as a precaution.

Images on a live feed from the Zaporizhzhia plant site earlier showed blasts lighting up the night sky and sending up plumes of smoke.

Zelensky angrily denounced the attack, in a video message saying: “No country other than Russia has ever fired on nuclear power units.”

“This is the first time in our history. In the history of mankind. The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror, ”he added, calling for global help.

“If there is an explosion, it is the end of everything. The end of Europe. This is the evacuation of Europe. Only immediate European action can stop Russian troops. ”

‘Reactors being shut down’

The fire broke out following fierce fighting in the area about 550 km (342 miles) southeast of Kyiv, the mayor of the nearby town of Energodar said in an online post.

“As a result of continuous enemy shelling of buildings and units of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire,” Mayor Dmytro Orlov said on his Telegram channel.

Shortly afterwards, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russian army was “firing from all sides” on the plant.

“Fire has already broken out… Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!” he wrote on Twitter.

Despite the fears, after several hours of uncertainty, Ukrainian authorities said the site had been secured.

“The director of the plant said that nuclear safety is now guaranteed,” Oleksandr Starukh, head of the military administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, said on Facebook.

“According to those responsible for the plant, a training building and a laboratory were affected by the fire,” he added.

And the IAEA said it had been told by Ukraine’s regulator that “there has been no change reported in radiation levels” at the site.

“Ukraine tells IAEA that fire at site of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has not affected ‘essential’ equipment, plant personnel taking mitigatory actions,” the watchdog added in a tweet.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also tweeted that “the plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down”.

US President Joe Biden spoke with Zelenskiy to get an update on the situation at the plant.

“President Biden joined President Zelenskiy 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.

Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, about 100 km north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe when it melted down in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type, some analysts said.

As the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two enters its ninth day, thousands are thought to have died or been wounded, 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine and Russia’s economy has been rocked by international sanctions.

The US and UK announced sanctions on more Russian oligarchs on Thursday, following on from EU measures, as they ratcheted up the pressure on the Kremlin.

More companies including Alphabet Inc’s Google, footwear giant Nike and Swedish home furnishing firm IKEA shut down or reduced operations in Russia as trade restrictions and supply constraints added to political pressure.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that is not designed to occupy territory but to topple the democratically elected government, destroy its neighbor’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

It denies targeting civilians.

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