The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has warned that Russia plans to simulate a major accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plantwhich is under the control of Russian forces, in an effort to thwart Ukraine’s expected counter-offensive to retake its territory captured by Moscow.
The Zaporizhzhia power plant, located in a Russian-occupied area of southern Ukraine, is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and the area has been repeatedly hit by bombings, with both sides blaming each other for the attacks dangerous.
Ahead of Ukraine’s expected counteroffensive, fears grew that a nuclear disaster could unfold amid growing military activity around Zaporizhzhia.
“The Russians are preparing a massive provocation and an imitation of the accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the nearest hours,” the intelligence directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on Friday.
“They plan to attack ZNPP territory [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant]. After that, they will announce the leak of the radioactive substances,” the intelligence directorate said in a statement and later on social media.
Reports of radioactive material leaking from the plant would cause a global incident and force an investigation by international authorities, during which all hostilities would be stopped, the management said. Russia would then use this pause in fighting to regroup its forces and better prepare to stop the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the intelligence service said.
“They will obviously blame Ukraine,” the leadership said, adding that the aim of the attack would be to “provoke the international community” to investigate the incident and force a pause in the fighting.
‼️ The Russians are preparing a massive provocation and imitation of the accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the nearest hours.
They plan to attack ZNPP territory. After that, they will announce the leak of the radioactive substances. pic.twitter.com/Vk6hRDD26v
— Ukraine Defense Intelligence (@DI_Ukraine) May 26, 2023
Experts say reports of a radiation leak at the plant would be followed by immediate evacuations, which could be extremely complex in a war zone. According to experts, for many people, the fear of being contaminated by radiation could also be more dangerous than the radiation itself.
Last week, witnesses said Russian military forces were strengthening their defensive positions in and around the nuclear plant ahead of the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive.
In preparation for the planned radioactive incident, Russia halted the scheduled rotation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, who are based at the plant, Ukraine’s intelligence leadership said.
The report of a planned incident in Zaporizhzhia was repeated in a tweet by Ukraine’s representative to the United Nations in New York, Sergiy Kyslytsya, who said events could unfold “in the next few hours”.
Moscow is preparing a large-scale provocation to create a center of radiological danger, according to @DI_Ukraine In the next few hours, the Russians are preparing a large-scale provocation to simulate an accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.https://t.co/KuxZEGRB2i
— Sergiy Kyslytsya ???????? (@SergiyKyslytsya) May 26, 2023
The management statement provided no evidence to support its claims and the Vienna-based IAEA, which frequently issues updates on the situation at the plant, made no mention of a any disruption to his schedule.
kyiv and Moscow have repeatedly accused each other of attacking the plant.
In February, Russia said Ukraine planned to stage a nuclear incident on its territory and blame it on Moscow.
Moscow has also repeatedly accused kyiv of planning false flag operations with unconventional weapons, using biological or radioactive materials.
No such attack has taken place so far.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi will brief the UN Security Council next week on the security situation in Zaporizhzhia and his safeguards plan at the site. Grossi, who last visited the plant in March, has stepped up efforts to reach an agreement with Ukraine and Russia to ensure the plant is protected during the fighting.
In a statement last week, Grossi said, “It’s very simple: don’t shoot at the factory and don’t use the factory as a military base.”
“It should be in everyone’s interest to agree on a set of principles to protect the factory during the conflict,” he added.
Zaporizhzhia once supplied about 20% of Ukraine’s electricity and continued to operate in the early months of the Russian invasion, despite frequent bombardments, before shutting down power generation altogether in September.
None of Ukraine’s six Soviet-era reactors have produced electricity since, but the Zaporizhzhia plant remains connected to the Ukrainian power grid for its own needs, including to cool the plant’s nuclear reactors.