After the Russian forces took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to gain the fastest route to Kyiv, they have now shelled Europe’s largest nuclear plant, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, this Friday, putting the plant at risk as a fire broke out after a building used for training was struck by a rocket or artillery round.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is located in Southeast Ukraine in the city of Enerhodar near the Kakhovka reservoir in the Dnieper river. It is known to be the 9th largest nuclear power plant in the world. It has six nuclear reactors that generate 950MW each, with a total output of 5,700MW. The nuclear power plant supplies 1/5th of Ukraine’s electricity needs. Any fire breaking out at a nuclear power plant has the potential for disaster should it spread to the reactors or safety systems used to control the reactors, risking another 1986 Chernobyl disaster that would be infinitely more deadly given the size of the Zaporizhzhai facility.  The reactors at this facility are Light Water Pressurized Reactors and not the Graphic Moderated Light Water Reactor type used at Chernobyl. The Zaporizhzhai reactors have their reactor pressure vessels inside a large containment building rather the concrete vault in the ground and a cover comprised of steel blocks used in Chernobyl’s RBMK reactors

According to the nuclear plant’s spokesman Andriy Tuz, the Russian shells were directly falling onto the facility and even set fire to one of the reactors. Luckily, the reactor was said to be under renovation and was not operational. However, there was nuclear fuel inside the reactor, which the shells could have ignited.

“There is a real threat of nuclear danger at the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe. We demand that they stop the heavy weapons fire at the energy blocks of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” he said. “I repeat, stop the heavy weapons fire at the energy blocks of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” he reiterated in a video message.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reported that the Russian army had been firing from all sides of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and called for an immediate cease-fire from the Russians so that firefighters could put out the fire. While the Ukrainian State Emergency Service reported that the plant was operating normally and that the radiation was within normal limits, only one of the plant’s six units was left operating.

According to US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, the plant’s reactors were being safely shut down and reassured the public that the plant’s reactors were protected with “robust containment structures.” She also informed the public that the Nuclear Incident Response Team was activated and that no elevated radiation readings were near the facility.

A photograph of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (Azernews). Source:
A photograph of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (Azernews)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated through a video message that there was an urgent need to stop the Russian military from shelling the power plant.

“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. Prevent Europe from dying from a nuclear disaster,” he said.

The fire was later put out. However, extinguishing the fire was a challenge because of the Russian gunfire as they were fighting with the Ukrainian forces who were defending their positions. “Intense fighting is ongoing on approach routes to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Our National Guard fighters are defending. There are victims, but the exact number and condition so far cannot be determined under the circumstances,” said Enerhodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov.

US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had been in contact since the fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant started. The two presidents, through a statement, called on Russia to cease all military activities in the area so that firefighters and emergency responders could put out the fire and attend to the wounded.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson also spoke with Zelensky about the nuclear power plant. Subsequently, he tweeted that “Russia must immediately cease its attack on the power station and allow unfettered access for emergency services to the plant.” In a Downing Street press release, the British government with Johnson stated that the actions of Putin could directly threaten the safety of all Europe.

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