Russia said Thursday there was a risk of a human-made disaster at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and accused Kyiv and the West of planning “provocation” there Friday during a visit to Ukraine by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
A senior Ukrainian official dismissed what he depicted as a cynical assertion by Moscow, and said the simplest solution to the situation would be for Russian forces to withdraw from the plant, remove any munitions stored there and demine it.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor complex, the largest in Europe, was captured by Russia soon after it invaded Ukraine almost six months ago and has come under repeated shelling, with both Moscow and Kyiv trading blame.
Russia says Ukrainian forces are recklessly firing at the plant, but Ukraine says Russia is deliberately using the reactor complex as a base to launch attacks against its population.
NBC News has not verified the claims of either side.
Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters Thursday that Moscow was taking measures to ensure safety at the complex and denied it had deployed heavy weapons in and around the plant.
However the ministry said a shutdown of the plant may be attempted if Ukrainian forces continued shelling it.
In a briefing, Igor Kirillov, head of Russia’s radioactive, chemical and biological defence forces, said the plant’s backup support systems had been damaged as a result of shelling.
Kirillov presented a slide, showing that in the event of an accident at the plant, radioactive material would cover Germany, Poland and Slovakia.
Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian-installed administration in Zaporizhzhia region, said earlier there was a risk that shelling could damage the cooling system of the reactor complex and was quoted as saying the plant was operating with only one unit.
It is not clear how the plant will be shut down, but the ministry said two of the plant’s six units may be put into “cold reserve”. The plant accounts for one fifth of Ukraine’s annual electricity production.