KYIV – Ukrainian officials and intelligence officers warned Russia could be preparing to blow up a nuclear power station, leading to a radioactive environmental disaster.
After the Kakhovka dam destruction last month, Kyiv fears the Kremlin plans to organize an explosion at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant — the largest in Europe — located in the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, Russian workers have been told to leave the power station by July 5.
“There is a serious threat. Russia is technically ready to provoke a local explosion at the plant, which could lead to the release of dangerous substances into the air,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said to Spanish journalists in Kyiv over the weekend. “We are discussing all this with our partners so that everyone understands why Russia is doing this and put pressure on the Russian Federation politically so that they don’t even think about such a thing.”
Last week as the State Emergency Service of Ukraine conducted radioactive safety drills in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukrainian Military Intelligence reported that a Russian military contingent, as well as Russian-backed nuclear power plant workers, were gradually leaving the plant.
“Among the first to leave the station were three Rosatom employees, who managed the actions of the Russians,” Ukrainian military intelligence said in a statement. They were advised to leave by July 5. “The personnel remaining at the station were instructed to blame Ukraine in case of any emergencies.”
Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement the fact that Ukrainian officials conducted radioactive safety drills and set additional radiation measurement devices in several cities means “Kyiv is preparing a false flag” operation. However Zakharova provided no evidence for her claim. The plant is currently Russian controlled.
Earlier last month Ukrainian spy chief Kyrylo Budanov said Russia was ready to orchestrate a technological disaster at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. The part most likely to be blown up would be the artificial pond needed for cooling the power station, Budanov said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has not confirmed Ukraine’s information that the cooling pond has been mined, although it also said it has not had full access to all sites at the plant.
According to the IAEA, its experts were able to inspect parts of the plant’s cooling system, including some sections of the perimeter of the large cooling pond, which still has a stable level of water needed to cool down the reactors. The IAEA experts have also been conducting regular walk-downs across reactor units and other areas around the site. The IAEA said it still expected to gain access to other parts of the site including the cooling system.
In an earlier update on June 21, the IAEA said that while they did not see any visible mines around the cooling pond, experts were aware of previous placements of mines outside the plant perimeter and also at particular places inside, which Russian security personnel on site explained were for defensive purposes.
Zelenskyy has not backed down on his claims, saying Russians might blow up the power station at some point in future, even when it comes back under Ukrainian control, using mines that can be activated from a distance. “There can be remote mines — then to say that everything was fine under the control of the occupiers, but blew up as soon as it went back to Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.