Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said he was alarmed by reports of damage and demanded urgent permission for a team of IAEA experts to visit the plant, assess and protect it The plant.
“I am deeply concerned by yesterday’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which underscores the real risk of a nuclear catastrophe that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi said in a statement Saturday.
“Military action jeopardizing the safety and security of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs,” he added.
Kyiv has accused Russian troops of stockpiling heavy weapons and launching attacks from the plant, which they took over in early March and still occupy. Meanwhile, Moscow claims that Ukrainian troops are targeting the complex.
Friday’s shelling damaged a power line, forcing one of the plant’s reactors to shut down, according to Ukraine’s state-run nuclear operator Energoatom, which later said the reactor itself was not damaged and that radiation conditions were normal.
The attack on the plant continued Saturday night, hitting various parts of the plant and injuring a Ukrainian employee, according to Energoatom. It claims that Russian troops and employees of Russia’s state nuclear energy company Rosatom, who have been at the site since occupying the plant, took cover in bunkers before the barrage began.
Energoatom warned that the rocket hit the site of the plant’s dry storage facility, which houses 174 containers of spent nuclear fuel, and damaged three radiation monitoring detectors, “there is currently no way to detect and respond to the leaking radioactive material in a timely manner. “.
“This time a nuclear catastrophe was miraculously avoided, but the miracle cannot last forever,” it added.
While the security situation is stable and there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety, according to the IAEA, Grossi warned that further fighting at the site could pose dire risks.
“Any military fire against or from the facility would be tantamount to playing with fire and could have catastrophic consequences,” Grossi said.
In a speech Saturday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again accused Russia of shelling the factory and using it to sow terror in Europe.
“Unfortunately, the situation around the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant has seriously deteriorated,” Zelensky said. “Russian terrorist becomes the first terrorist in the world to use a nuclear power plant for terrorist activities. The largest terrorist in Europe!”
Zelensky said on Sunday that he had spoken to European Council President Charles Michel.
CNN was unable to verify damage claims at the plant, which occupies a sprawling site. Ukrainian prosecutors have launched an investigation into the shelling.
“Irresponsible violation of nuclear safety rules”
The EU’s top diplomat has slammed Russia’s military activities around the Zaporo thermal power plant and called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to enter the complex.
Some Western and Ukrainian officials believe Russia is now using the massive nuclear facility as a bulwark to protect their forces and launch attacks, believing that Kyiv will not fight back and risk a crisis.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has accused Moscow of using the plant to protect its forces, while the U.K. Ministry of Defence said in a recent security assessment that Russian actions at the complex undermined the security of its operations.
In late July, Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Enehodar, said that Russian troops were observed using heavy weapons near the nuclear power plant because “they knew very well that the Ukrainian armed forces would not respond to attacks because they could destroy nuclear power plants.”
“The possible consequences of hitting an operating reactor are equivalent to using an atomic bomb,” the ministry said on Twitter.
Grossi called on all parties to “exercise maximum restraint around this important nuclear facility with six reactors”.
He added: “Ukrainian workers operating the plant under Russian occupation must be able to perform their important duties without threat or pressure that would compromise not only their own safety, but the safety of the facility itself.”
Since the plant was occupied by Russian troops, the IAEA has been working to coordinate a mission for conservation experts to visit the plant.
“This mission will play a key role in helping stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there, as we have done at Chernobyl and elsewhere in Ukraine in recent months,” he said.
CNN’s Mariya Knight, Vasco Cotovio and Tim Lister contributed to this report.