The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, said he was concerned by reports of damage and called for a team of IAEA experts to be urgently allowed to visit the plant to assess and safeguard the site.
“I am extremely concerned about yesterday’s bombing of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which highlights the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi said in a statement on Saturday.
“Military action that jeopardizes the safety and security of the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs,” he added.
Kyiv has accused Russian forces of stockpiling heavy weapons and launching attacks from the factory, which they seized in early March and still hold. Moscow, meanwhile, has claimed that Ukrainian troops are targeting the compound.
The bombing on Friday damaged a power line and forced one of the plant’s reactors to shut down, according to Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power company Energoatom, which later said there was no damage to the reactors themselves and that the situation radioactivity was normal.
Attacks at the plant continued Saturday night, according to Energoatom, hitting various parts of the complex and injuring a Ukrainian employee. He claimed that Russian forces and employees of the Russian state nuclear company Rosatom, who have been at the site since seizing the plant, took shelter in warehouses before the barrage began.
The missiles hit the site of the plant’s dry storage facility, where 174 containers of spent nuclear fuel are kept, and destroyed three radiation monitoring detectors, making early detection and response to radioactive leaks “impossible at this time,” Energoatom warned.
“This time a nuclear disaster was miraculously averted, but miracles can’t last forever,” he added.
While the security situation is stable and there is no immediate threat to nuclear security, according to the IAEA, Grossi warned of the dire risk further fighting could pose at the site.
“Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would be tantamount to playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” Grossi said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his late-night speech on Saturday, again accused Russia of bombing the plant and using it to terrorize Europe.
“Unfortunately, we have a significant deterioration of the situation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Zelensky said. “Russian terrorists became the first in the world to use a nuclear plant for terrorism. The largest in Europe!”
Zelensky said on Sunday that he had spoken with European Council President Charles Michel
CNN was unable to verify claims of damage to the plant, which occupies a large area. Ukrainian prosecutors have launched an investigation into the bombing.
“Irresponsible violation of nuclear safety rules”
The European Union’s top diplomat criticized Russia’s military activities around the Zaporizhzya power plant and called on the IAEA to gain access to the complex.
Several Western and Ukrainian officials believe Russia is now using the giant nuclear facility as a bastion to shield its troops and launch attacks because they assume Kyiv will not fire back and risk a crisis.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of using the plant to shield its forces, while Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a recent security assessment that Russia’s actions at the complex were sabotaging the security of its operations.
The Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said in late July that Russian forces had been observed using heavy weaponry near the plant because “they know very well that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will not respond to these attacks, as they can damage the nuclear energy. plant.”
“The potential consequences of hitting a functioning reactor are equivalent to using an atomic bomb,” the ministry said on Twitter.
Grossi called on all parties “to show maximum restraint in the vicinity of this important nuclear facility, with its six reactors.”
“Ukrainian personnel operating the Russian-held plant must be able to perform their important duties without threats or pressures that undermine not only their own safety but also the facility itself,” he added.
The IAEA has been trying to coordinate a mission of protection experts to visit the plant since it was seized by Russian forces.
“This mission will play a critical role in helping to stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there, as we have done at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and elsewhere in Ukraine in recent months,” he said.
CNN’s Mariya Knight, Vasco Cotovio and Tim Lister contributed to this report.