US warns Moscow not to divert power from Ukraine nuclear plant

Europe's largest nuclear facility has been occupied by Russian troops



Photos: Reuters
Photos: Reuters

By AFP

Published: Fri 26 Aug 2022, 6:54 AM

On Thursday, Washington warned Russia against diverting energy from a nuclear plant Kyiv says was cut off from its grid, as calls mount for an independent inspection of the facility.

Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is under occupation by Moscow's troops and was disconnected from the national power supply on Thursday, the state energy operator said.

The United States cautioned Russia against redirecting energy from the site.

"The electricity that it produces rightly belongs to Ukraine, and any attempt to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and redirect to occupied areas is unacceptable," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

"No country should turn a nuclear power plant into an active war zone and we oppose any Russian efforts to weaponize or divert energy from the plant," he added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Ukraine had informed it the plant temporarily lost connection — "further underlining the urgent need for an IAEA expert mission to travel to the facility".

"We can't afford to lose any more time. I'm determined to personally lead an IAEA mission to the plant in the next few days," the organisation's Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre urged Russia to agree to a demilitarised zone around the plant and "allow the IAEA to visit as soon as possible to check on the safety".

The Zaporizhzhia plant — Europe's largest nuclear facility — has been occupied by Russian troops in southern Ukraine since the opening weeks of the war, and remained on the frontlines ever since.

Recently, Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for shelling around the complex — a "highly volatile" development the IAEA says "underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster".

President Volodymyr Zelensky described Russian actions around the plant as a menace.

"Russia has put Ukrainians as well as all Europeans one step away from radiation disaster," he said, in his nightly address.

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President Joe Biden, in a telephone call with Zelensky, called for Russia to return full control of the plant and let in UN nuclear inspectors, the White House said.

Earlier on Thursday, Zelensky said he had spoken with Biden and thanked him for the United States' "unwavering" support.

"We discussed Ukraine's further steps on our path to the victory over the aggressor and the importance of holding Russia accountable for war crimes", Zelensky said on Twitter.

Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to increase the headcount of his country's army to more than two million, including 1.15 million servicemen, from next January, according to the document published on a government portal.

Putin last set the army headcount in 2017, at around 1.9 million people, with 1.01 million soldiers.

Ukraine state operator Energoatom said the Zaporizhzhia plant was severed from the national network, after a power line was twice disconnected by ash pit fires in an adjacent thermal power plant. The three other power lines "were earlier damaged during terrorist attacks" by Russian forces, the operator said.

"The actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection of the [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant] from the power grid — the first in the history of the plant," Energoatom added on Telegram.

"Start-up operations are under way to connect one of the reactors to the network."

Kyiv officials have said they believe Moscow has seized the station in order to divert power to the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

Energoatom could not be immediately reached for comment on whether the supply had been diverted, the cause of the ash pit fires, or the number of those without electricity.

However, the mayor of the city of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, said: "Russian occupiers cut off the electricity in almost all occupied settlements of Zaporizhzhia."


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