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Russian military forces seized Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya on Friday, 4 March, hours after a fire broke out at the facility due to strikes by the invaders.
As per the Ukrainian state nuclear company, at least three Ukrainian troops were killed and two were wounded amidst the assault, AP reported.
The State Inspectorate for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine had said, "The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant is captured by the military forces of the Russian Federation.”
The statement further said plant staff were continuing to operate the reactor and supply power according to normal safety rules.
'No Release of Radioactive Material Detected': UN Atomic Watchdog
However, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a press conference on Friday that the building that was hit by Russian strikes was "not part of the reactor" and added that Ukrainians are still in control of the reactor, as per AP.
He added that "no release of radioactive material has been detected at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant", The Guardian reported.
Nuclear plant spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that Russian shells had struck a non-operating reactor and an administrative training building.
Grossi clarified that it was a training centre at the Ukrainian nuclear plant that was hit by a Russian "projectile". He added that he is heading to Ukraine to analyse the situation.
This comes after Ukrainian official Oleksandr Starukh, who heads the military administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, had said on Facebook, "The director of the plant said that the nuclear safety is now guaranteed."
Making a statement after the fire was extinguished, he had said, "According to those responsible for the plant, a training building and a laboratory were affected by the fire."
The fire at the nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia had broken out after Russian missiles had targeted the sensitive facility. After burning for at least four hours as Russian troops prevented responders from entering the plant, the fire was brought under control.
"At 06:20 am the fire in the training building of Zaporizhzhya NPP in Energodar was extinguished. There are no victims," Ukraine's state emergency services said in a statement.
Ukraine Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba had warned that if the disturbance at the nuclear plant escalates, the consequences would by 10 times more than those of the Chernobyl disaster.
"Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Fire has already broken out. If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chernobyl!" he had said in a tweet.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy, shared a video of the facility and said in a tweet, "Zaporizhzhia NPP is under fire! The entire Europe is at risk of a repeat of the nuclear catastrophe. Russians must stop fire!"
Russia Has Resorted to 'Nuclear Terror': Zelenskyy
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Moscow of resorting to “nuclear terror” and wanting to “repeat” the Chernobyl disaster after he said Russian forces shot at a nuclear power plant.
He said in a video message, “No country other than Russia has ever fired on nuclear power units. This is the first time in our history. In the history of mankind. The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror."
"These are tanks equipped with thermal imagers, so they know where they are shooting... If there is an explosion, it is the end of everything. The end of Europe," Zelensky added.
'No Change in Radiation Levels at Zaporizhzhia': International Atomic Energy Agency
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a tweet, "IAEA is aware of reports of shelling at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), in contact with Ukrainian authorities about situation."
"Ukraine regulator tells IAEA there has been no change reported in radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant site," the agency said.
"Ukraine tells IAEA that fire at site of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has not affected “essential” equipment, plant personnel taking mitigatory actions," IAEA tweeted.
"IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks with Ukraine PM Denys Shmygal and Ukrainian nuclear regulator and operator; appeals for halt of use of force and warns of severe danger if reactors hit," the agency said in a statement.
Previously, a government official was quoted by news agency AP, "Elevated levels of radiation were detected near the site of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which provides about 25 percent of Ukraine’s power generation."
Biden Speaks To Zelenskyy, Urges Russia To Allow Emergency Responders to the Nuclear Plant
A senior United States (US) official informed on Friday morning that US President Joe Biden "just spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy" about Ukraine nuclear station, AFP reported.
Biden further urged Russia to allow emergency responders to the nuclear site.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has said the reactors at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station “are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down”.
She added on Twitter, "Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease."
Granholm further stated, “We have seen no elevated radiation readings near the facility."
Russia has intensified strikes across Ukraine despite negotiators from the two countries reaching an agreement on the creation of humanitarian corridors for residents to evacuate.
(With inputs from AP, AFP and The Guardian.)