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Russians seize control of staff at Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine, cut off communications


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Russian forces have now put staff at Europe’s largest nuclear plant under their command and cut off their ability to communicate with Ukraine’s nuclear regulator, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said Sunday. 

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which is located about 350 miles southeast of Kyiv, was originally seized by Russian troops on Friday after an adjacent five-story training facility was set on fire by a Russian projectile. 

“Ukraine reports that any action of plant management – including measures related to the technical operation of the six reactor units – requires prior approval by the Russian commander,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said Sunday. 

“In a second serious development, Ukraine has reported that the Russian forces at the site have switched off some mobile networks and the internet so that reliable information from the site cannot be obtained through the normal channels of communication.”

In this handout photo provided by the Ukrainian National Nuclear Energy Generation Company Energoatom, a fire is seen at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant - the largest in Europe - after it was attracted by Russian forces early on Friday morning Energodar, Ukraine, March 4, 2022. 

In this handout photo provided by the Ukrainian National Nuclear Energy Generation Company Energoatom, a fire is seen at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – the largest in Europe – after it was attracted by Russian forces early on Friday morning Energodar, Ukraine, March 4, 2022. 
(Press Service of National Nuclear Energy Generation Company Energoatom via AP)

Phone lines, emails, and fax were no longer functioning on Sunday, and mobile phone communications were poor, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator told the UN agency. 

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The IAEA accused Russia of violating key safety guidelines governing nuclear plants, including that “operating staff must be able to fulfill their safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure,” and that there must be “reliable communications with the regulator and others.”

This image made from a video released by Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant shows bright flaring object landing in grounds of the nuclear plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine Friday, March 4, 2022. 

This image made from a video released by Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant shows bright flaring object landing in grounds of the nuclear plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine Friday, March 4, 2022. 
(Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant via AP)

The IAEA said that the fire did not affect any essential equipment and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm confirmed that the plant’s reactors “are protected by robust containment structures.” 

Two of the plant’s six nuclear reactors were operating at or near full capacity on Sunday, while two were in cold shutdown, one was cooling down for a cold reserve state, and the sixth was in planned maintenance until later this year. 

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Radiation levels at the plant remained normal throughout the weekend. 

A satellite image with overlaid graphics shows military vehicles alongside Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine February 25, 2022. Picture taken February 25, 2022.

A satellite image with overlaid graphics shows military vehicles alongside Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine February 25, 2022. Picture taken February 25, 2022.
(BlackSky/Handout via REUTERS)

Ukrainian President Volodymy Zelenskyy accused Russia of “nuclear terror” after the attack. 

“Russian propaganda had warned in the past to cover the world in nuclear ash,” Zelenskyy said, according to a translation of his remarks. “Now this isn’t just a warning, this is real.”

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The UN’s nuclear watchdog also expressed concern about the Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine, which was captured by Russian forces on the first day of their invasion. More than 200 technical personnel and guards at Chernobyl haven’t rotated since Feb. 23, the IAEA said. 

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