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United Nations inspectors are trying to gain access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex in Ukraine, where Russia and Ukrainian authorities have traded blame for artillery strikes the UN warns could lead to “nuclear disaster.”
“Any attack (on) a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said at a news conference Monday, according to Reuters.
Guterres’ comments come as Ukraine has warned of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe at the plant and called for it to be declared a demilitarized zone, with international watchdogs fearing an accident after two days of fighting at the plant that is occupied by Russian forces.
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Ukraine has been launching a counter-offensive in the southern region of the country where the plant is located after Russian forces concentrated their forces on gains made in the area, resulting in the fighting around the plant. Rockets landed near a high-voltage power line in Friday’s fighting and on Saturday struck near a dry storage facility. Shelling also damaged radiation-monitoring sensors near the facility.
“This time a nuclear catastrophe was miraculously avoided, but miracles cannot last forever,” Ukraine’s state nuclear power firm Energoatom said, according to the Washington Post.
Russian and Ukraine have traded blame for the strikes, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calling for a “stronger response from the international community.”
The situation at the plant has experts fearing the worst. Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball warned that buildings around a nuclear facility are not designed to withstand military strikes.
“This is particularly dangerous because these buildings are not built with the same kind of reinforced concrete that the reactor containment building is,” Kimball told the Washington Post. “These places were not designed as fortresses against external missile or artillery strikes.”
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Kimball warned that a sustained loss of power at the plant could also turn deadly, noting that these power plants have “a certain number of days for which they have backup diesel power generation.”
“This is the first time in the history of the nuclear age that a major nuclear power facility for a sustained period of time is in the middle of an active war zone,” Kimball said.