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Ukraine, Russia trade blame over nuclear plant shelling; UN urges end to attacks

Moscow accuses Kyiv of trying to create a ‘man-made catastrophe’ at Zaporizhzhia site as Kyiv says Russia ‘putting world at risk’; IAEA warns both are ‘playing with fire’

A general view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, September 11, 2022. (STRINGER / AFP)
A general view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, September 11, 2022. (STRINGER / AFP)

MOSCOW, Russia — Kyiv and Moscow on Sunday traded accusations of shelling on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that Russia controls in southern Ukraine.

The UN atomic watchdog with a team of experts at the plant — the biggest nuclear facility in Europe — said “powerful explosions” occurred on Saturday and Sunday.

Kyiv “does not stop its provocations aiming at creating the threat of a man-made catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” the Russian army said in a statement on Sunday.

Despite the shelling, radiation levels “remain normal,” the army added.

It said missiles exploded around a power line that feeds the plant, the fourth and fifth power units, and “special building number 2.”

Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom, told state-run agency TASS that the “special building” contained nuclear fuel.

Ukrainian nuclear energy agency Energoatom said shortly after that Russia was behind the explosions.

“This morning on November 20, 2022, as a result of numerous Russian shelling, at least 12 hits were recorded on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Energoatom said.

It accused Russia of “once again… putting the whole world at risk.”

“The news… is extremely disturbing. Explosions occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable,” UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said in a statement.

“Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately,” he urged.

“As I have said many times before, you’re playing with fire!” Grossi said, and appealed to both sides in the conflict to urgently agree and implement a nuclear safety and security zone around the nuclear facility.

He added that the damage to buildings, systems, and equipment recorded so far was not “critical.”

The explosions were “abruptly ending a period of relative calm at the facility and further underlining the urgent need for measures to help prevent a nuclear accident there,” the statement read.

Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for months over shelling near the Russian-held facility, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster and spurring calls to demilitarize areas around atomic facilities in Ukraine.

Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s power grid and other key infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts for millions of Ukrainians amid frigid weather, with snow blanketing the capital, Kyiv, and other cities.

Elsewhere in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian forces shelled civilian infrastructure in about a dozen communities, destroying 30 homes, the Ukrainian presidency said Sunday.

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