UN chief Guterres calls for end to 'suicidal attacks' on Ukraine nuclear plants

Fears of disaster after shelling at Zaporizhzhia site

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant near the front line of fighting. EPA
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged the warring parties in Ukraine to step back from the brink of a nuclear catastrophe, describing attacks on the country's atomic plants as "a suicidal thing".

His plea came after shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, near the southern front line of the fighting, which Ukraine and Russia blamed on each other.

The head of Ukraine's state nuclear power provider called on Monday for international peacekeepers to establish a demilitarised zone around Zaporizhzhia, which is occupied by Russian troops.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov meanwhile called on Kyiv's allies to "use their influence" to stop shelling he claimed was coming from Ukraine.

Speaking in Japan after visiting the site of the nuclear bombing in Hiroshima 77 years ago, Mr Guterres called on the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency to enter Zaporizhzhia to ensure the site was safe.

"Any attack on a nuclear plant is suicidal thing and I hope that those attacks will end," he said.

Amid concerns that Russia will turn to its doomsday weapons if cornered in Ukraine, Mr Guterres urged all nuclear-armed powers to commit to the principle of never ordering a first strike or threatening countries with no nuclear deterrent.

"I believe this is the moment when the risk of a nuclear confrontation is back — something that we had forgotten for decades," he said.

"I hope these asks will be taken seriously because we are witnessing a radicalisation in the geopolitical situation that makes the risk of a nuclear war again something we cannot completely forget."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged nuclear-armed countries to commit to a no-first-strike policy. EPA

Concerns are growing over Zaporizhzhia, the biggest of Ukraine's four nuclear plants, as the two sides battle for control of southern Ukraine in what British intelligence described as a new phase of the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address on Sunday that "no one will stop the wind" from spreading radioactive waste beyond Ukraine's borders if there is a safety breach at nuclear plant.

He called for a "principled response" from the international community to what he described as two Russian attacks on Zaporizhzhia in one day. Russia claimed Ukraine had attacked its own power plant.

Russia occupied the plant in the early stages of the invasion and Rafael Grossi, the head of the IAEA, last week said nearly every principle of nuclear safety had been compromised in recent months.

He said he was ready to lead a mission to Zaporizhzhia to stabilise the situation and inspect the safety of the plant but that this had not yet been possible.

Mr Guterres said he and his colleagues "fully support the IAEA in all their efforts in relation to creating the conditions of stabilisation of that plant".

UN inspectors in April led a mission to the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Reuters

A separate IAEA mission went in April to the site of the Chernobyl disaster, where alarms had been raised when Russian troops occupied the territory on the first day of their invasion of Ukraine.

Some safety data from Chernobyl, where a reactor exploded in 1986 in the world's worst nuclear catastrophe, is not reaching UN inspectors during the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

As Russia prepares for a counter-attack in the south, its military is suspected by British intelligence of using anti-personnel mines to defend its positions in the eastern Donbas.

Russia is likely to be using PFM1 mines, also known as "butterfly mines", according to Britain's Ministry of Defence, which said they were used to devastating effect during the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Moscow is still using the same Soviet stocks and they are likely to have degraded since then and become "highly unreliable and unpredictable", the MoD said.

Updated: August 08, 2022, 11:16 AM