UPDATED: No damage to reactors at Ukraine’s Zaporozhzhia nuclear plant -IAEA chief

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VIENNA, March 4 (Reuters) – No damage has been done to the reactors at Ukraine’s Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant after a projectile hit a nearby building on the site overnight, U.N. nuclear chief Rafael Grossi said on Friday, adding he believed the projectile was Russian.

Ukrainian staff continue to operate the nuclear facilities while Russian forces control the area, Grossi told a news conference.

  •  Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed directly to Russians on Friday to stage protests over the seizure of nuclear power infrastructure by Russian troops in Ukraine.

“Russian people, I want to appeal to you: how is this possible? After all we fought together in 1986 against the Chernobyl catastrophe,” he said in a televised address.

  • Russia’s defence ministry on Friday blamed an attack at the site of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine on Ukrainian saboteurs, calling it a monstrous provocation.

Ukraine has said Russian forces attacked the plant in the early hours of Friday, setting an adjacent five-storey training facility on fire, in an incident that provoked international condemnation of Moscow, a week into its invasion of Ukraine.

A Russian defence ministry spokesman said the nuclear plant was operating normally and the area had been under Russian control since Feb. 28.

“However, last night on the territory adjacent to the power plant, an attempt was made by the Kyiv nationalist regime to carry out a monstrous provocation,” spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying.

He said that a Russian national guard patrol was attacked by a Ukrainian sabotage group on territory adjacent to the plant.

  •  Russian military forces have seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest – in Ukraine’s southeast, the regional state administration said on Friday.

“Operational personnel are monitoring the condition of power units,” it said on social media, quoting the Ukrainian nuclear inspectorate.

It said efforts sought to ensure the operations were in line with safety requirements.

Ukraine has said Russian forces attacked the plant in the early hours of Friday, setting an adjacent five-story training facility on fire.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said on Thursday the reactors at Zaporizhzhia power station “are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down”.

Granholm said on Twitter she had spoken with Ukraine’s energy minister about the situation at the plant. She said there was no elevated radiation readings near the facility. 

Ukrainian emergency services said one of six nuclear power units was working as of early Friday.

  • Essential equipment at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was unaffected after a fire there, with no change in radiation levels, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Friday, citing the country’s regulatory authorities.

Ukraine had said the plant in its southeast was shelled overnight, the IAEA added.

“The Ukraine regulatory authority said a fire at the site had not affected ‘essential’ equipment and plant personnel were taking mitigatory actions,” it said. “There was no reported change in radiation levels at the plant, it said.”

  • A fire broke out in a training building outside the largest nuclear power plant in Europe during intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, Ukraine’s state emergency service said on Friday.

Ukraine’s state emergency service said on Friday that fire has been put out near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which provides more than a fifth of total electricity generated in Ukraine.

A video feed from the plant verified by Reuters showed shelling and smoke rising near a building at the plant compound.

There has been fierce fighting in the area about 550 km (342 miles) southeast of Kyiv, the mayor of the nearby town of Energodar said in an online post. He said there had been casualties, without giving details.

“As a result of continuous enemy shelling of buildings and units of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire,” Mayor Dmytro Orlov said on his Telegram channel.

Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, about 100 km north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe when it melted down in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type, some analysts said.

Early reports of the incident at the power plant sent financial markets in Asia spiralling, with stocks tumbling and oil prices surging further. 

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy to get an update on the situation at the plant.

“President Biden joined President Zelenskiy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” the White House said.

Energy Secretary Granholm said on Twitter that the reactors at Zaporizhzhia were “protected by robust containment structures” and were being “safely shut down”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russian army was “firing from all sides” on the plant.

“Fire has already broke out … Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!” he wrote on Twitter.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a tweet that it was “aware of reports of shelling” at the power plant and was in contact with Ukrainian authorities.

SANCTIONS MOUNT

As the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two enters its ninth day, thousands are thought to have died or been wounded, 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine and Russia’s economy has been rocked by international sanctions.

The United States and Britain announced sanctions on more Russian oligarchs on Thursday, following on from EU measures, as they ratcheted up the pressure on the Kremlin.

More companies including Alphabet Inc’s  Google, footwear giant Nike  and Swedish home furnishing firm IKEA shut down or reduced operations in Russia as trade restrictions and supply constraints added to political pressure. 

Sanctions have “had a profound impact already,” Biden said.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that is not designed to occupy territory but to topple the democratically elected government, destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists. It denies targeting civilians.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaux; Writing by Costas Pitas and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Stephen Coates)

Photo -Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi attends a press conference on the situation at the Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Nuclear Power Plant at the IAEA headquarters of the UN seat in Vienna, Austria, 04 March 2022. Zaporizhzhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, was set on fire after shelling by Russia earlier in the day. The fire was extinguished by state emergency service workers. EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

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