Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense has warned that Russia plans to simulate a major accident at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant under the control of Russian troops in order to thwart an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive to retake territory occupied by Moscow.
Europe’s largest nuclear plant, the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Russia-occupied southern Ukraine, has been shelled repeatedly, with each side blaming the other for the dangerous attack.
Ahead of Ukraine’s expected counteroffensive, fears of a possible nuclear catastrophe have grown amid increased military activity around Zaporozhye.
“The Russians are preparing large-scale provocations and imitations of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant accident in the near future,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry intelligence service said on Friday.
“They plan to attack ZNPP territory [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant]. Afterwards, they will announce the release of radioactive material,” the intelligence agency said in a statement and later on social media channels.
Reports of a leak of radioactive material from the plant would trigger a global incident and compel an investigation by international authorities, the bureau said, during which time all hostilities would cease. Intelligence agencies said Russia would then use the pause in fighting to regroup its forces and be better prepared to stop a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“They will obviously blame Ukraine,” the bureau said, adding that the aim of the attack was to “provoke the international community” to investigate the incident and force a pause in the fighting.
‼ ️The Russians are preparing to carry out large-scale provocations and imitations of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant accident in the recent time.
They plan to attack ZNPP territory. Afterwards, they announce the release of radioactive material. pic.twitter.com/Vk6hRDD26v
– Ukraine Defense Intelligence (@DI_Ukraine) May 26, 2023
Experts say immediate evacuation will follow reports of a radiation leak from a nuclear power plant, which could be extremely complicated in a war zone. For many, the fear of radiation contamination may also be more dangerous than the radiation itself, according to experts.
Last week, witnesses said Russian troops were strengthening defensive positions in and around the nuclear plant ahead of Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive.
Ukraine’s intelligence service said Russia had disrupted the rotation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors at the plant in response to a planned radiological incident.
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s representative to the United Nations in New York, repeated on Twitter reports of planned events in Zaporizhzhia, which he said could happen “in the next few hours”.
Moscow is reportedly preparing a massive provocation to create a radiation hazard center. @DI_Ukraine In the next few hours, the Russians are preparing for a massive provocation to simulate an accident at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. https://t.co/KuxZEGRB2i
— Sergiy Kyslytsya 🇺🇦 (@SergiyKyslytsya) May 26, 2023
The council’s statement offered no evidence to back up its claim, while the Vienna-based IAEA has issued frequent updates on the power plant’s situation and made no mention of any interruptions to its schedule.
Kiev and Moscow have repeatedly accused each other of attacking the nuclear power plant.
In February, Russia said Ukraine was planning a nuclear accident on its soil and blamed Moscow.
Moscow has also repeatedly accused Kiev of planning a “false flag” operation using unconventional weapons, biological or radioactive materials.
So far, no such attacks have occurred.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi will brief the UN Security Council next week on the security situation in Zaporozhye and his safeguards plans on the ground. Grossi, who last visited the plant in March, has stepped up efforts to reach a deal with Ukraine and Russia to ensure the plant is protected during the fighting.
In a statement last week, Grossi said: “It’s simple: don’t shoot at factories and don’t use factories as military bases.”
“It should be in everyone’s interest to agree on a set of principles to protect nuclear power plants during conflict,” he added.
Zaporizhzhia, which supplied about 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity, continued to operate during the early months of the Russian invasion, despite frequent shelling, until it shut down entirely in September.
None of Ukraine’s six Soviet-era reactors has since produced electricity, but the Zaporizhzhia facility remains connected to the Ukrainian grid for its own needs, notably cooling the plant’s nuclear reactors.