The European Union warned Tuesday (26 April) that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risks setting off a fresh nuclear disaster in Europe, 36 years after the accident at the Chernobyl plant.
Invading Russian forces controlled the Chernobyl zone — the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986 — for more than a month before retreating in late March.
“Today, Russia’s illegal and unjustified aggression in Ukraine again jeopardises nuclear safety on our continent,” the European Commission said in a statement.
It said Moscow’s forces had “targeted and occupied Ukrainian nuclear sites, recklessly damaging the facilities.”
“The unlawful occupation and the interruption of normal operations, such as preventing the rotation of personnel, undermine the safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants in Ukraine and significantly raise the risk of an
accident,” it said.
Russian troops have also seized the Zaporizhzhia atomic plant, Europe’s largest, after an attack at the site that drew global concern.
“We call on Moscow to return control of the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to the Ukrainian authorities and refrain from any further actions targeting nuclear installations.”
Ukraine’s state-run atomic energy company said Russian missiles flew at low altitude over Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Tuesday, and reiterated warnings that Russia’s invasion could lead to a “nuclear catastrophe”.
Energoatom issued its latest warning about the risks caused by the war with Russia on the 36th anniversary of Chornobyl disaster.
The company said cruise missiles had flown over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during an air strike which local authorities said hit a commercial building in the city of Zaporizhzhia, killing at least one person.
“Missiles lying at a low altitude directly over the site of the ZNPP (Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant), where there are 7 nuclear facilities with a huge amount of nuclear material, poses huge risks,” Petro Kotin, Energoatom’s acting chief, said.
“After all, missiles could hit one or more nuclear facility, and this threatens a nuclear and radiation catastrophe around the world,” he was quoted as saying in a statement issued by Energoatom on the Telegram messaging app.
Energoatom said Russian troops, who have occupied the plant since 4 March, were keeping heavy equipment and ammunition on the site.
“Thirty-six years after the Chornobyl tragedy, Russia exposes the whole world to the danger of a repeat of the nuclear catastrophe!” it said.
Russia did not immediately comment on Energoatom’s statement. It has previously offered safety assurances about Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities since launching what it says is a “special military operation” on 24 February.
Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), called Russia’s occupation of Chernobyl “very, very dangerous” during a visit to the site on Tuesday with a team of experts to carry out radiation checks and deliver essential kit.
IAEA has come under criticism for taking lightly the risks in Ukraine, a country with 15 civil nuclear reactors.
Ukraine says that Russian soldiers dug trenches in highly radioactive locations during their occupation of the exclusion zone.
(Edited by Georgi Gotev)