An unstoppable wind of “radioactive contamination” could spread over Europe if the West does not act to stop Russia’s seizure of the continent’s largest nuclear power plant, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has warned.
Last weekend’s artillery barrages at Zaporizhzhia, in Russian-occupied territory in southern Ukraine, have sparked international fears of a Chernobyl-style disaster.
Fighting around the facility, located on the banks of the Dniper River, has intensified as Ukrainian forces battle to reclaim territories occupied by Russia in the south.
Both Moscow and Kyiv traded blame for the shelling around the power plant, which was captured by Russian fighters in early March.
Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power company warned the bombardment had damaged radiation sensors, after strikes close to a storage facility for spent fuel at the plant.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday that Ukrainian attacks had damaged high-voltage power lines into the Soviet-era plant and forced it to reduce output by two of its six reactors to “prevent disruption”.
The White House called on Russia on Monday to cease all military operations around nuclear facilities in Ukraine.
“Fighting near a nuclear plant is dangerous,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House spokesman, told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Petro Kotin, the head of Energoatom, called for a Western-backed peacekeeping mission to create a “demilitarised zone” around the facility.
“The decision that we demand from the world community and all our partners … is to withdraw the invaders from the territory of the station and create a demilitarised zone on the territory of the station,” he said.
“The presence of peacekeepers in this zone and the transfer of control of it to them, and then also control of the station to the Ukrainian side would resolve this problem.”