The last working reactor at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was disconnected from the grid after shelling caused a fire, with the UN’s atomic watchdog due to brief the Security Council about the crisis on Tuesday (6 September).
Soon after it invaded in February, Moscow largely took control of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of southern Ukraine and is now aiming to absorb them into Russia through referendums — as it did with Crimea in 2014.
Russia also blamed Western sanctions for its halting of gas supplies to Germany and on top of the crisis in Europe, there are fears of a nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia — Europe’s biggest atomic facility.
“Today the last power transmission line connecting the plant to the energy system of Ukraine was damaged due to another Russian provocative shelling,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address on Monday.
“Due to Russian provocation, the Zaporizhzhia plant is one step away from a radiation disaster.”
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant (ZNPP) has been shelled in recent weeks, with Ukraine and Russia blaming each other for the attacks as fears grow of a possible nuclear incident.
Ukraine’s state-run power company Energoatom said Monday that the last working reactor — Power Unit No. 6 — was disconnected from the grid because shelling had started a fire.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), citing information supplied from Ukraine, said the plant’s backup power line had been cut to extinguish a fire but that the line itself was not damaged and would be reconnected.
The UN nuclear watchdog said the plant had enough electricity to operate safely and would be reconnected to the grid once backup power was restored.
The IAEA’s presence at the plant was reduced to two staff members from six on Monday. IAEA chief Rafael Grossi will issue a report on Ukraine, including the plant, on Tuesday and then brief the UN Security Council, the IAEA said.
In 1986, Ukraine — a part of the Soviet Union at the time — was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, when a reactor at the Chernobyl plant exploded and spewed radiation into the atmosphere.
The attacks at ZNPP have prompted comparisons with that disaster, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday accused Russia of “reckless behaviour”.
US President Joe Biden on Monday said Russia should not be designated a state sponsor of terrorism, a label Ukraine has pushed for but which Moscow has warned would rupture US-Russian ties.
Kherson referendum on hold
After failing to capture Kyiv in the first weeks of the war, Russia has focused its attacks on the south and east of Ukraine.
Authorities installed by Moscow in the Kherson region of Ukraine on Monday suggested that plans for a referendum on joining Russia had been delayed.
Kirill Stremousov, a pro-Moscow official in Kherson, told Russian state TV that the referendum plans were on hold — but later moderated his comments saying it was not a pause, without mentioning a date for the vote.
“The referendum will take place no matter what. No one will cancel it,” Stremousov said in a video posted on Telegram.
Kyiv on Monday made its boldest claim yet of success on the battlefield in its week-old counter-offensive against Russian forces in the south.
Following days of silence about their new offensive, Ukrainian officials posted an image online of three soldiers raising Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag on a rooftop purportedly in Vysokopyllya, in the north of Kherson.
“We will renew our territory. We cannot freeze this conflict now. We need to step-by-step de-occupy our territory,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with ABC News. “It’s only a matter of time.”
Ukraine’s southern command said on Tuesday that four Russian ammunition depots had been destroyed in three districts of Kherson region in the previous 24 hours.
Bridges over the Dnipro river had been shelled, it added.
“Control and cover by fire of the crossings of the Dnipro river is systematic and effective,” the southern command said in a statement.
Europe’s energy crisis
Russia is a major energy exporter, and it has slashed gas supplies to Europe following Western sanctions over the invasion.
Power bills have soared across Europe, fuelling already rocketing inflation.
The Kremlin has blamed the “collective West — in this case the European Union, Canada and Britain” for the halt of Russian gas supplies to Germany, after key infrastructure was closed indefinitely for repairs.
Fears are growing of crippling winter gas shortages in Europe.
Russian Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov told reporters at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Tuesday that Moscow would respond to proposed price caps on Russian oil by shipping more supply to Asia.
The Kremlin warned the West on Monday that it would retaliate after Group of Seven finance ministers agreed last week to a cap to pressure Russia over its actions in Ukraine.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Monday that it would keep two nuclear plants on standby beyond the end of the year “in case needed” for electricity — partly delaying a nuclear exit planned under former chancellor Angela Merkel.
Germany has already moved to restart mothballed coal power plants and fill gas storage ahead of the winter to guard against an energy shortfall.
Earlier Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said France was ready to deliver more gas to allow Germany to export more electricity.