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Russian forces in southern Ukraine were advancing toward the country’s second-largest nuclear plant Friday, one day after attacking the largest such facility, according to reports.
The troops were closing in on the nuclear power station in Yuzhnoukrainsk, after Russia’s previous attack Thursday targeted the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Enerhodar, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.N. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council.
The council met Friday in an emergency session at U.N. headquarters in New York City in response to the Thursday attack.
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The threat to the plant in Yuzhnoukrainsk was an “imminent danger,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“Russian forces are now 20 miles, and closing, from Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility,” the ambassador said. “So this imminent danger continues.”
“Russian forces are now 20 miles, and closing, from Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility. So this imminent danger continues.”
“Nuclear facilities cannot become part of this conflict,” Thomas-Greenfield said earlier in her remarks. “Reliable electricity is vital for the nuclear facility, as are back-up diesel generators and fuel. Safe transit corridors must be maintained. Russia must halt any further use of force that might put at further risk all 15 operable reactors across Ukraine – or interfere with Ukraine’s ability to maintain the safety and security of its 37 nuclear facilities and their surrounding populations.”
Thomas-Greenfield’s complete remarks at the U.N. can be found here.
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On Thursday, the world watched in horror as the Zaporizhzhia plant in Enerhodar was attacked, sparking a fire at the facility, posing the threat of a radiation disaster beyond the plant’s immediate location.
But later, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the fire had been extinguished and there was no immediate indication of increased radiation levels at the site.
Grossi, appearing via video at the U.N. meeting, told the gathering that no reactors had been struck at the Zaporizhzhia station and that the plant was operating normally after the fire, The Associated Press reported.
The director did not say who was responsible for a “projectile” hitting a building at the plant site, sparking the fire, but claimed Russia had informed him days before the strike that its forces would attempt to take control of the plant, the AP reported.
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Russian officials, meanwhile, blamed “a Ukrainian sabotage group” for setting the fire as it tried to provoke a Russian patrol group in the area, according to the AP.
In targeting the Zaporizhzhia site – not only the largest in Ukraine but the largest in Europe — Russia was likely seeking “leverage” over Ukraine’s civilian population, a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News on Friday.
“If your goal is to control population centers, if your goal is to supplant the government of Ukraine and replace it with one that that’s more suitable to you, if your goal is to control Ukraine, one can surmise that you would want to control the infrastructure and to make sure that you can meter it to your needs,” the defense official said.
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“You can use your leverage in that regard to punish a population, to make it harder for that population to resist you.”
Previously, fighting broke out in northern Ukraine near the site of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, where an accident that is considered the industry’s worst occurred in April 1986.
The Russia-Ukraine war was heading into its 10th day on Saturday.
Fox News’ Tyler Olson and The Associated Press contributed to this story.