Ukraine claims Russia planning ‘massive’ incident at nuclear site

The Ukrainian defense ministry has warned that Russia plans to simulate a major accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is controlled by Russian troops, in an attempt to thwart Ukraine’s expected counter-offensive to recapture its territory captured by Moscow .

The Zaporizhzhia plant, located in an area of ​​Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and the area has been repeatedly hit by shelling with both sides blaming each other for the dangerous attacks.

Ahead of Ukraine’s expected counter-offensive, fears have grown that a nuclear disaster could occur amid increasing military activity around Zaporizhzhia.

“The Russians are preparing a massive provocation and imitation of the accident at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in the coming hours,” the intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s defense ministry said on Friday.

“They intend to attack ZNPP territory [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant]. Then they will announce the leak of the radioactive materials,” the intelligence directorate said in a statement and later on social media channels.

Reports of radioactive material leaking from the plant would trigger a global incident and force an investigation by international authorities, which would see an end to all hostilities, the directorate said. Russia would then use that lull in battle to regroup its forces and better prepare to stop the Ukrainian counter-offensive, the intelligence agency said.

“They will clearly blame Ukraine,” the directorate said, adding that the aim of the attack would be “to provoke the international community” to investigate the incident and force a pause in fighting.

Experts say reports of a radiation leak at the plant would be followed by immediate evacuations, which could be extremely complex in a war zone. According to experts, the fear of being contaminated by radiation could also be more dangerous for many people than the radiation itself.

Last week, witnesses said Russian forces were strengthening defensive positions in and around the nuclear plant ahead of Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive.

In preparation for the planned radioactive incident, Russia disrupted the scheduled rotation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors stationed at the plant, Ukraine’s intelligence service said.

The report of a planned incident in Zaporizhzhia was echoed in a tweet by Ukraine’s representative to the United Nations in New York, Sergiy Kyslytsya, who said events could unfold “in the next few hours”.

The directorate’s statement did not provide any evidence to support its claims and the Vienna-based IAEA, which regularly posts updates on the situation at the power plant, has not reported any disruption to the schedule.

Kiev and Moscow have repeatedly accused each other of attacking the factory.

In February, Russia said Ukraine planned to stage a nuclear incident on its territory and blame it on Moscow.

Moscow has also repeatedly accused Kiev of planning “false flag” operations with non-conventional weapons, using biological or radioactive materials.

Such attacks have not yet taken place.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi will brief the UN Security Council next week on the security situation in Zaporizhzhia and his plan for security checks at the site. Grossi, who last visited the plant in March, has stepped up efforts to reach an agreement with Ukraine and Russia to ensure the plant’s protection during the fighting.

In a statement last week, Grossi said: “It’s very simple: don’t shoot the plant and don’t use it as a military base.”

“It should be in everyone’s interest to agree on a set of principles to protect the plant during the conflict,” he added.

Zaporizhzhia once supplied about 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity and continued to function in the early months of the Russian invasion, despite frequent shelling, before power production was completely halted in September.

None of Ukraine’s six Soviet-era reactors have since generated electricity, but the Zaporizhzhia facility remains connected to the Ukrainian power grid for its own needs, notably to cool the plant’s nuclear reactors.