Risks of nuclear power plant disaster in Ukraine rise ‘every day’

The risk of disaster at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant “increases every day”, the mayor of the city where it is located told AFP on Sunday, after Ukraine and Russia swapped blame for fresh shelling around the facility.

The Zaporozhye factory in southeastern Ukraine has been occupied by Russian forces since March, and Kyiv has accused Moscow of deploying hundreds of soldiers and storing weapons there.

The facility has been shelled repeatedly over the past week, raising the specter of a nuclear disaster.

“What is happening there is outright nuclear terrorism and it could end unpredictably at any moment.”

said Dmytro Orlov, mayor of the city of Energodar, where the plant is located.

“The risks are increasing every day,”

he told AFP by telephone from the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporozhye.

He said there was mortar fire at the plant “every day and night”.

“The situation is dangerous and what is most worrying is that there is no de-escalation process,”

he added.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky previously accused Russia of nuclear “blackmail” and using the plant to “intimidate people in an extremely cynical way”.

He also said Russian troops were “hiding” behind the headquarters to stage bombing raids on the Ukrainian-held towns of Nikopol and Marganets.

But pro-Moscow officials in the occupied regions of Zaporozhye blamed Ukrainian forces for the shelling.

The missiles fell “in areas located on the banks of the Dnieper River and at the plant,” said Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-based administration, without reporting casualties or damage.

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The river separates the territories occupied by Russia and those under the control of Ukraine.

Orlov said that in the past 24 hours, Energodar, which he left at the end of April, had been shelled for the first time, leading to a dramatic increase in those hoping to evacuate.

Amid safety concerns, he warned there may not be enough staff to man the station in the “near future”.

Nuclear disaster

Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations of several shelling of the plant this month, with the strikes raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

In the village of Vischetarasivka, on the opposite bank of the Dnieper from the plant, resident Viktor Shabanin said recent events had made people “nervous”.

“Often the wind blows in our direction. So the radiation will immediately go to us and the radiation will go into the water.”

added the 57-year-old.

AFP correspondents on the ground heard air raid sirens and distant gunfire on Sunday but reported no fresh fighting around the facility.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on the situation on Thursday and warned of a “serious” crisis developing in Zaporozhye.

The concern over Zaporozhye has revived painful memories of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster – the world’s worst nuclear accident – which struck Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union and scattered radioactive dust and ash across Europe.

Anastasia Rudenko believes her late husband, who worked on the decontamination of the Chernobyl disaster zone, died of bladder cancer in 2014 due to radiation.

“We could have the same fate as the people of Chernobyl”

The 63-year-old told AFP.

“There is nothing good in what is happening and we don’t know how it will end.

Backed by Western allies, Ukraine has called for a demilitarized zone around the plant and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces.

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UN grain ready to leave

Russian forces trying to continue their offensive near the Dnieper in southern Kherson region are under pressure after strategically important bridges were damaged, a Ukrainian politician said on Sunday.

Regional MP Sergii Khlan said the pontoons the Russians are using cannot fully meet their needs and that command centers are being moved because they risk being cut off from supplies.

In his daily address on Sunday, Zelensky backed the idea of ​​a complete European Union visa ban for all Russian travelers, which is currently being considered by the Czech Republic, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

“The discussion… is expanding every day, with new countries and new politicians joining it. Ultimately, this should lead to appropriate solutions.”

He also said the Ukrainian parliament would decide “in the near future” on extending martial law.

A major consequence of the war was the sharp rise in food prices after the Russian naval blockade and the mining of ports by Kyiv prevented the sale of Ukrainian grain on world markets.

A landmark deal last month between Russia and Ukraine brokered by Turkey and the United Nations created safe corridors allowing key grain exports to resume.

Kyiv on Sunday said the first UN-chartered ship transporting grain from Ukraine to ease the global food crisis was loaded with 23,000 tonnes of wheat and ready to depart.

Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the MV Brave Commander, currently in the Black Sea port of Pivdenny, will head to Africa with a 23,000-ton cargo of wheat.

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© Agence France Presse

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