Ukraine accuses Russia of 'nuclear terrorism' after missile strike near plant

Attack reignites fears that Moscow’s nearly seven-month war in Ukraine might cause a radiation disaster

Windows were blown out at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant after Russian rockets landed within 300 metres of the building. AP
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A Russian strike hit targets close to a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Monday, damaging nearby industrial equipment but not hitting its three reactors.

Ukrainian authorities denounced the move as an act of “nuclear terrorism”.

The missile struck 300 metres from the reactors at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant near the city of Yuzhnoukrainsk in Mykolaiv province, leaving a hole two metres deep and four metres wide, Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom said.

The reactors were operating normally and no employees were injured, it said.

However, the proximity of the strike renewed concerns that Russia’s nearly seven-month-long war in Ukraine might lead to a radiation disaster.

The nuclear power station is Ukraine’s second-largest after the Zaporizhzhia plant, which has repeatedly come under fire.

After recent setbacks on the battlefield, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened last week to step up Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure.

Zaporizhzhia latest — in pictures

Throughout the war, Russia has launched strikes on Ukraine’s electricity generation and transmission equipment, causing power cuts and endangering the safety systems of the country’s nuclear power plants.

The industrial complex that includes the plant sits along the Southern Bug river about 300 kilometres south of the capital, Kyiv.

The attack caused the temporary shutdown of a nearby hydroelectric power plant and shattered more than 100 windows at the complex, Ukrainian authorities said.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said three power lines were knocked offline but later reconnected.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant attacked — in pictures

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry released a black-and-white video showing two large fireballs erupting one after the other in the dark, followed by incandescent showers of sparks, shortly after midnight.

The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately comment on the attack.

Russian forces have occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, since the early days of the invasion.

Shelling has cut off the plant’s transmission lines, forcing operators to shut down its six reactors to avoid a radiation disaster.

Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the strikes.

The IAEA, which has stationed monitors at the Zaporizhzhia plant, said a main transmission line was reconnected on Friday, providing the electricity it needs to cool its reactors.

But the mayor of Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia plant is located, reported more Russian shelling on Monday in the city’s industrial zone.

While warning on Friday of a possible ramp-up of strikes, Mr Putin claimed his forces had so far acted with restraint but warned “if the situation develops this way, our response will be more serious”.

“Just recently, the Russian armed forces have delivered a couple of impactful strikes,” he said.

“Let’s consider those as warning strikes.”

The latest Russian shelling killed at least eight civilians and wounded 22, Ukraine’s presidential office said on Monday.

The governor of the north-eastern Kharkiv region, now largely back in Ukrainian hands, said Russian shelling killed four medical workers trying to evacuate patients from a psychiatric hospital and wounded two patients.

The mayor of the Russian-occupied eastern city of Donetsk, meanwhile, said Ukrainian shelling had killed 13 civilians and wounded eight.

IAEA issues warning over military activity near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — video

Patricia Lewis, the international security research director at the Chatham House think tank in London, said attacks at the Zaporizhzhia plant and Monday’s strike on the South Ukraine plant indicated that the Russian military was attempting to knock Ukrainian nuclear plants offline before winter.

“It’s a very, very dangerous and illegal act to be targeting a nuclear station,” Ms Lewis told The Associated Press.

“Only the generals will know the intent, but there’s clearly a pattern.

“What they seem to be doing each time is to try to cut off the power to the reactor.

“It’s a very clumsy way to do it, because how accurate are these missiles?”

Power is needed to run pumps that circulate cooling water to the reactors, preventing overheating and — in a worst-case scenario — a radiation-spewing nuclear fuel meltdown.

Other recent Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure have been made against power plants in the north and a dam in the south.

They came in response to a sweeping Ukrainian counter-offensive in the country’s east that reclaimed Russian-occupied territory in the Kharkiv region.

Ukraine war latest — in pictures

Analysts have noted that beyond recapturing territory, challenges remain in holding it.

In a video address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said cryptically of that effort: “I cannot reveal all the details, but thanks to the security service of Ukraine, we are now confident that the occupiers will not have any foothold on Ukrainian soil.”

The Ukrainian successes in Kharkiv — Russia’s biggest defeat since its forces were repelled from around Kyiv in the invasion’s opening stage — have fuelled rare public criticism in Russia and added to the military and diplomatic pressure on Mr Putin.

The Kremlin’s nationalist critics have questioned why Moscow has failed to plunge Ukraine into darkness yet by hitting all of its major nuclear power plants.

Updated: September 20, 2022, 8:25 AM