Nuclear Safety on the Brink: Drone Attacks Target Europe's Largest Nuclear Plant

Written by Camilla Jessen

Apr.08 - 2024 8:47 AM CET

Russia claims Ukraine attacked Europe's largest nuclear facility, the Zaporizhzhia plant, with drones, prompting urgent calls for restraint and raising fears of a nuclear safety crisis.

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Tensions surrounding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, Europe's largest nuclear facility, have escalated following reports of drone attacks. Russia has accused Ukraine of targeting the plant, which is under Russian control, three times in a single day.

Kyiv has denied any involvement in these strikes, with Ukrainian intelligence suggesting an internal operation by Russian forces.

According to Reuters, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with experts stationed at the facility, confirmed it was "the first time the nuclear plant, Europe's largest, was directly targeted since November 2022."

This situation marks a significant uptick in the ongoing tension between Russia and Ukraine, both of whom have previously pointed fingers at each other for endangering the nuclear site since its seizure by Russian forces in 2022.

Detailed Accounts of the Attack

Russia's state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, outlined the sequence of the day's events, stating, "Ukraine attacked the plant three times on Sunday with drones, first injuring three near a canteen, then attacking a cargo area and then the dome above reactor No. 6."

"Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station has been subjected to an unprecedented series of drone attacks, a direct threat to the safety of the plant," Rosatom claimed.

Despite these alarming incidents, Rosatom reassured that "the radiation levels at the plant and the surrounding area have not changed."

In response, a Ukrainian intelligence official offered a contrasting perspective, asserting, "Kyiv had nothing to do with any strikes on the station," and suggesting the possibility of a self-staged attack by Russia.

"Russian strikes, including imitation ones, on the territory of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant... have long been a well known criminal practice of the invaders," stated Andriy Usov, a spokesperson for Ukraine's HUR Main Intelligence Directorate.

International Condemnation and Calls for Restraint

Amidst these conflicting accounts, the IAEA's Director General Rafael Grossi issued a warning about the dangers these actions pose to nuclear safety: "This is a major escalation of the nuclear safety and security dangers facing the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Such reckless attacks significantly increase the risk of a major nuclear accident and must cease immediately."

"Attacking a nuclear power plant is an absolute no go...this was a serious incident that had the potential to undermine the integrity of the reactor’s containment system," Grossi added.

On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called for global leaders to address what she termed an act of "nuclear terrorism" by Ukraine, questioning, "how many more times Ukraine would endanger nuclear safety at the plant before Western leaders took action."