Fire at Ukraine’s key nuclear power plant amid Russian attacks | National policy

By JIM HEINTZ, YURAS KARMANAU and MSTYSLAV CHERNOV – Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A fire at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant sparked by Russian bombing has been extinguished, Ukrainian authorities said Friday, and Russian forces have taken control of the site.

Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory authority said no changes in radiation levels had been recorded so far. He said staff were surveying the site to check for further damage to the No. 1 reactor compartment at the Zaporizhzhia power plant in the town of Enerhodar.

The regulator noted in a statement on Facebook the importance of maintaining the ability to cool nuclear fuel, saying the loss of such ability could lead to an even worse accident than the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst disaster. nuclear power in the world or the 2011 Fukushima collapses in Japan. . He also noted that there is a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel at the site, although there are no signs that the facility has been hit by shelling.

The bombing of the factory came as the Russian army continued its attack on a crucial Ukrainian energy-producing city and gained ground in its bid to cut the country off from the sea. As the invasion entered its second week, another round of talks between Russia and Ukraine resulted in an agreement in principle to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid.

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Leading nuclear authorities were worried — but not panicky — about the damage to the plant. The assault, however, led to phone calls between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden and other world leaders. The US Department of Energy has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team as a precautionary measure.

Earlier, nuclear power plant spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that shells fell directly on the facility and set one of its six reactors on fire. This reactor is being renovated and not working, he said.

The Zaporizhzhia regional military administration said measurements taken at 07:00 (0500 GMT) on Friday showed that radiation levels in the region “remain unchanged and do not endanger the life and health of the population”.

The mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, announced on his Telegram channel on Friday morning that “the fire at the (nuclear power plant) has been extinguished”. His office told The Associated Press that the information came from firefighters authorized to enter the site overnight.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in the ‘next hours’ to raise the issue of Russia’s attack on the nuclear power plant, according to a statement from his office. .

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm tweeted that the reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant were protected by strong containment structures and were shut down safely.

In an emotional speech in the middle of the night, Zelenskyy said he feared an explosion that would be “the end for everyone.” The end for Europe. Evacuation from Europe.

“Only urgent action from Europe can stop Russian troops,” he said. “Don’t let Europe die from a nuclear power plant disaster.”

But most experts saw nothing that indicated impending doom.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the fire did not affect critical equipment and Ukraine’s nuclear regulator reported no change in radiation levels. The American Nuclear Society agreed, saying the latest radiation levels remained within natural background levels.

“The real threat to the lives of Ukrainians continues to be the violent invasion and bombardment of their country,” the group said in a statement.

Orlov, the mayor of Enerhodar, said Russian shelling had ceased hours before dawn and residents of the city of more than 50,000 who had spent the night in shelters could return home. The city woke up to no heat, however, as the bombardment damaged the city’s heating pipe, he said.

Prior to the bombing, the Ukrainian Atomic Energy Company reported that a Russian military column was heading towards the nuclear power plant. Heavy gunfire and rocket fire were heard Thursday night.

Later, a security camera streamed live from the Zaporizhzhia factory homepage showed what appeared to be armored vehicles entering the facility’s parking lot and shining spotlights on the building where the camera was. climb.

Then there was what appeared to be muzzle flashes from vehicles, followed by near simultaneous explosions in surrounding buildings. The smoke was rising in the frame and moving away.

Vladimir Putin’s forces have deployed their superior firepower over the past few days, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites across the country and making significant gains in the south .

The Russians announced the capture of the southern city of Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 280,000 people, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed the takeover of the seat of government there, making it the first big city to fall since the invasion started a week ago.

A Russian airstrike destroyed the Okhtyrka power plant on Thursday, leaving the town without heat or electricity, the region’s chief said on Telegram. In the early days of the war, Russian troops attacked a military base in the city, located between Kharkiv and Kiev, and officials said more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed.

“We are trying to find a way to get people out of the city urgently, because in one day apartment buildings will turn into a cold stone trap without water, light or electricity,” said Dmytro Zhyvytskyy .

Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Sea of ​​Azov. The fighting destroyed the city’s electricity, heating and water systems, as well as most telephone services, officials said. Food deliveries to the city have also been cut.

Associated Press video from the port city showed the assault lighting up the darkening sky over deserted streets and medical teams treating civilians, including a 16-year-old boy inside a clinic that could not be saved. The child was playing football when he was injured in the shelling, according to his father, who cradled the boy’s head on the stretcher and cried.

Cutting Ukraine’s access to the Black and Azov seas would deal a crippling blow to its economy and allow Russia to build a land corridor to Crimea, seized by Moscow in 2014.

Overall, the outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainians put up stiff resistance, preventing the quick victory that Russia seemed to expect. But a senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia’s capture of Crimea gave it a logistical advantage in that part of the country, with shorter supply lines who facilitated the offensive there.

Ukrainian leaders called on the people to defend their homeland by cutting down trees, erecting barricades in cities and attacking enemy columns from the rear. In recent days, authorities have distributed weapons to civilians and taught them how to make Molotov cocktails.

“Total resistance. … This is our Ukrainian asset, and this is the best we can do in the world,” Oleksiy Arestovich, an aide to Zelenskyy, said in a video message, recalling guerrilla actions in occupied Ukraine by the Nazis during World War II.

The second round of talks between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations was held in neighboring Belarus. But the two sides seemed very distant at the start of the meeting, and Putin warned Ukraine that it must quickly accept the Kremlin’s request for its “demilitarization” and declare itself neutral, renouncing its candidacy for NATO.

Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron he was determined to continue his attack “all the way”, according to Macron’s office.

Both sides said they had tentatively agreed to allow ceasefires in areas designated as safe corridors and would seek to work out the necessary details quickly. An adviser to Zelenskyy also said a third round of talks will take place early next week.

Despite a wealth of evidence of civilian casualties and destruction of property by the Russian military, Putin denounced what he called an “anti-Russian disinformation campaign” and insisted that Moscow uses “only precision weapons to exclusively destroy military infrastructure”.

Putin claimed that the Russian military had already offered safe corridors for civilians to flee, but he claimed without evidence that Ukrainian “neo-Nazis” were preventing people from leaving and using them as human shields.

The Pentagon set up a direct communication link with the Russian Defense Ministry earlier this week to avoid the possibility that a miscalculation could trigger a conflict between Moscow and Washington, according to a US defense official who s is expressed on condition of anonymity because the link had not been announced.

Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Chernov reported from Mariupol, Ukraine. Sergei Grits in Odessa, Ukraine; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; and other AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.

Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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