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Lviv (Ukraine/Kyiv/Paris) (Reuters) – A massive fire broke out in a building at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Friday and officials said the plant was operating normally after it was captured by Russian forces in heavy fighting. It caused a global alarm.
Officials said the fire in the Zaporizhzhya complex was in a training center and not in the factory itself. An official at Energoatom, the state company that operates four nuclear plants in Ukraine, said there was no further fighting, the fire had been extinguished, the radiation was normal and Russian forces were under control.
“The workers in their workplaces provide the normal operation of the plant,” the official told Reuters in a message.
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However, he said, his organization is no longer in contact with plant managers, does not control the radiation situation there or supervise the potentially dangerous nuclear materials in its six reactors and about 150 containers of spent fuel.
The Russian Defense Ministry also said the plant was operating normally. It blamed the fire on a “brutal attack” by Ukrainian saboteurs and said its forces were in control.
The possibility that the fighting at the plant could cause a potential nuclear disaster to deteriorate global financial markets.
Even seemingly avoiding this scenario, Russia’s hold on a plant that provides more than a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity was a major development after eight days of war in which other Russian advances were bogged down by fierce resistance.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and other Western officials said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels at the plant.
Earlier, video from the factory, verified by Reuters, showed a building on fire and a hail of incoming shells, before a large glowing ball lit up the sky, exploding next to a parking lot and billowing smoke across the complex.
“Europeans, please wake up. Tell the politicians that Russian forces are shooting at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video speech. In another speech later, the Russians called for protest.
He also called on the Russians to protest the attack. Read more
The mayor of the nearby town of Energodar, about 550 km southeast of Kyiv, said heavy fighting and “the constant bombardment of the enemy” had caused casualties in the area, without giving details.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or injured and more than a million refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the biggest attack on a European country since World War II.
Russian forces advancing from three directions surrounded Ukrainian cities and bombarded them with artillery and air raids. Moscow says its goal is to disarm its neighbor and arrest leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies view this as a baseless excuse to launch a war to invade the country of 44 million people.
Russia had already taken over the defunct Chernobyl plant north of Kyiv, which dumped radioactive waste across much of Europe when it melted in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different, safer kind.
The escalation of protests and sanctions
Loud explosions were heard in Kyiv on Friday morning, and air raid sirens sounded. Reuters journalists in the capital were not immediately able to determine the cause of the explosions.
Only one Ukrainian city, the southern port of Kherson, has fallen to Russian forces since the invasion began on February 24, but Russian forces continue to besiege and attack other cities.
Britain said in an intelligence update on Friday that the southeastern port city of Mariupol had surrounded Russian forces and had come under intense attacks.
“Maripol is still under Ukrainian control, but it is likely to be surrounded by Russian forces,” the Defense Ministry said. “The city’s civilian infrastructure has been subjected to intense Russian strikes,” he added.
The northeastern cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv were attacked from the beginning of the invasion, but the defenders held out.
Kyiv, the capital of 3 million people, was bombed but so far escaped a major assault, with Russia’s main offensive force stalled for days in a mile-long convoy on a highway to the north. In Washington, a US defense official said the Russians were still 25 kilometers from downtown Kyiv.
Russia and Ukraine negotiators agreed at peace talks on Thursday on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians flee and get medicine and food into combat zones.
In Russia itself, where key Putin opponents have been largely imprisoned or exiled over the past year, the war has been accompanied by further suppression of dissent. Authorities banned reports referring to a “special military operation” as a “war” or “invasion.” Anti-war demonstrations were quickly quelled, with thousands arrested.
The last of the major independent broadcasters, TV Dozhd (Rain) and Radio Ekho Moskvy, were closed Thursday. The lower house of the State Duma introduced legislation on Friday to impose prison terms on people for publishing “false” reports about the military.
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Additional reporting by Pavel Politiuk, Natalia Zenets and Alexander Vasovich in Ukraine, John Irish in Paris, David Leungren in Ottawa, other Reuters offices; Written by Costas Pettas, Lycoln Fest, and Peter Graf; Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron Moore and Timothy Heritage
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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