**Article updated after Russian forces seized the plant and the fire was extinguished
Russian forces seized the largest nuclear power plant in Europe after a building at the complex was set ablaze during intense fighting with Ukrainian defenders, Ukrainian authorities said on Friday (4 March).
Fears of a potential nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia plant had spread alarm across world capitals, before authorities said the fire in a building identified as a training centre, had been extinguished.
A fire had broken out in a training building at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe during intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, Ukraine’s state emergency service had said earlier on Friday.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which provides more than a fifth of total electricity generated in Ukraine.
A video feed from the plant verified by Reuters showed shelling and smoke rising near a building at the plant compound.
The footage shot at night showed one building aflame, and a volley of incoming shells, before a large candescent ball lit up the sky, exploding beside a car park and sending smoke billowing across the compound.
⚡️⚡️⚡️ Russian forces are firing at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, a city on the Dnipro River that accounts for about one-quarter of Ukraine’s power generation.
The city’s Mayor Dmytro Orlov said the nuclear plant is now on fire. pic.twitter.com/0Y62OsAz2x
— 𝖕𝖚𝖘𝖘𝖞 𝖗𝖎𝖔𝖙💦 (@pussyrrriot) March 4, 2022
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi blamed Russia for having shelled the nuclear power plant.
“For the first time in history, a country has committed nuclear terrorism”, he said in a video.
He reminded that Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors and the Russian army action could force “the evacuation of Europe”.
Zelensky issues an urgent new message warning that Russian artillery fire at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant risks a nuclear radiation catastrophe that threatens the entire continent. “You know the word Chernobyl,” he says grimly. pic.twitter.com/j8OjaqdLXH
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 4, 2022
The mayor of the nearby town of Energodar about 550 km (342 miles) southeast of Kyiv said fierce fighting and “continuous enemy shelling” had caused casualties in the area, without providing details.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or wounded and more than 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin last Thursday launched the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.
Early reports of the incident at the power plant sent financial markets in Asia spiralling, with stocks tumbling and oil prices surging further.
“Markets are worried about nuclear fallout. The risk is that there is a miscalculation or over-reaction and the war prolongs,” said Vasu Menon, executive director of investment strategy at OCBC Bank.
Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, about 100 km north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe when it melted down in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type, some analysts said.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Zelenskiy to get an update on the situation at the plant.
“President Biden joined President Zelenskiy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” the White House said.
Energy Secretary Granholm said on Twitter the reactors at Zaporizhzhia were “protected by robust containment structures” and were being “safely shut down”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a tweet that it was “aware of reports of shelling” at the power plant and was in contact with Ukrainian authorities.
Fighting rages, sanctions mount
On Thursday, Russia and Ukraine negotiators agreed to the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape and to deliver medicines and food to the areas where fighting was the fiercest.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a temporary halt to fighting in select locations was also possible.
The negotiators will meet again next week, the Belarusian state news agency Belta quoted Podolyak as saying.
Only one Ukrainian city, the southern port of Kherson, has fallen to Russian forces since the invasion was launched on 24 February, but Russian forces continue to surround and attack other cities. Mariupol, the main port on the Sea of Azov, was surrounded and under heavy bombardment. Water and power was cut off, and officials say they cannot evacuate the wounded.
Video posted on Twitter from Mariupol, and verified by Reuters, showed parked vehicles burning while non-stop firing reverberated around surrounding apartment blocks.
Heartbreaking 💔 Father cries on his son's lifeless body in Mariupol. This city is under continuous firing for three days already. How many kids should die so the world acts? Stop #TerroRussia #ProtectUАSky
Credits @EMaloletka pic.twitter.com/C1zgOvgdEc
— Daria Kaleniuk (@dkaleniuk) March 3, 2022
The northeastern city of Kharkiv has been under attack since the start of the invasion, but defenders are holding out in the heavily shelled city.
While no major assault has been launched on Kyiv, the capital has been shelled, and Russian forces unleashed devastating firepower to break resistance in the outlying town of Borodyanka.
In Washington, a US defense official said Russian troops were still 25 km from Kyiv city centre. Earlier on Thursday, the British Ministry of Defence said a huge Russia convoy rumbling southwards toward Kyiv, was advancing slowly, partly due to resistance, but also due to logisitical issues.
The United States and Britain announced sanctions on more Russian oligarchs on Thursday, following on from EU measures, as they ratcheted up the pressure on the Kremlin.
More companies including Alphabet Inc’s Google, footwear giant Nike and Swedish home furnishing firm IKEA shut down or reduced operations in Russia as trade restrictions and supply constraints added to political pressure.
Sanctions have “had a profound impact already,” Biden said.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that is not designed to occupy territory but to topple the democratically elected government, destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists. It denies targeting civilians.
Russian human rights activist and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov called on Western countries to eject Russia from the global police agency Interpol, and impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“Russia should be thrown back into the Stone Age to make sure that the oil and gas industry and any other sensitive industries that are vital for survival of the regime cannot function without Western technological support,” Kasparov said.
(Edited by Georgi Gotev)