Russia-Ukraine War: 'Close Call' Says IAEA, After Ukraine Narrowly Escaped Nuclear Disaster

The UN's nuclear watchdog IAEA has said that Ukraine narrowly escaped disaster after the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine was targeted by shelling over the weekend.
Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at Russian positions near Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region on November 20.
Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at Russian positions near Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region on November 20.AP

The UN's nuclear watchdog IAEA has said that Ukraine narrowly escaped disaster after the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine was targeted by shelling over the weekend.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said that "powerful explosions" hit the nuclear plant, Europe's largest, on the evening of November 19 and again early on November 20. Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for the incidents, which damaged some of the plant's buildings and equipment.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said in a statement issued late on November 20 that whoever fired on the plant was taking "huge risks and gambling with many people's lives."

"We were fortunate a potentially serious nuclear incident did not happen," he said, describing the situation as a "close call."

"Next time, we may not be so lucky," Grossi added.

Radiation levels remained normal and there were no reports of casualties, the IAEA said. There was no direct impact on nuclear safety and security systems, but "the shelling came dangerously close to them," Grossi said.

Ukraine's energy agency Enerhoatom has accused Russian forces of shelling the facility, saying that at least 12 strikes were recorded. Russia's Defense Ministry on November 20 accused Ukrainian forces of firing on power lines that supply the plant. On November 21, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Moscow's assertion that Kyiv was behind the attacks.

In a video address to NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Madrid on November 21, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged members of the Western military alliance to protect Ukraine's nuclear plants.

"All our nations are interested in not having any dangerous incidents at our nuclear facilities," Zelenskiy said. "We all need guaranteed protection from Russian sabotage at nuclear facilities."

The same day, the head of the Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, Aleksei Likhachev, warned that there was a risk of a nuclear accident at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant and said that he had been engaged in negotiations with the IAEA "all night." Rosatom has controlled the facility since Russian President Putin in October ordered that the plant be seized and all Ukrainian staff members be transferred to a Russian entity. (SJ/RFE)

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