Ukraine: Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant ‘On Verge Of Nuclear, Radiation Accident’
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency characterized the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as “extremely vulnerable” after Europe’s largest atomic power station in occupied Ukraine lost external power and had to switch to its emergency diesel generators.
This was the seventh time the nuclear plant lost power since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, said the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Rafael Grossi. “The nuclear safety situation at the plant [is] extremely vulnerable,” he said in a tweet. The power was later restored but Grossi appealed for shelling to stop around the Russian-occupied power plant.
“We must agree to protect [the] plant now; this situation cannot continue,” he said in his latest tweet.
IAEA staff are deployed at the plant, which is occupied by Russian troops. The plant’s six nuclear reactors, which are protected by a reinforced shelter able to withstand an errant shell or rocket, have been shut down. But a disruption in the electrical supply could disable cooling systems that are essential for the reactors’ safety even when they are shut down. Emergency diesel generators, which officials say can keep the plant operational for 10 days, can be unreliable.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear company, announced that power had been restored at the plant but rang the alarm that the facility is “on the verge of a nuclear and radiation accident.” The agency claimed Russian shelling caused the loss of the last high-voltage transmission line to the plant in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, about 500 kilometers (311 miles) from Kyiv.
It was not possible to independently verify that claim.
Fighting, especially artillery fire, around the plant has fueled fears of a disaster like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, in 1986. Then, a reactor exploded and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe.
F-16s to Ukraine not ‘game-changer’
U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said “it will take several months at best” to decide on supplying F-16s to Ukraine. Speaking with reporters with the Defense Writers Group in Washington on Monday, Kendall said the F-16s “will give the Ukrainians an interim capability they don’t have right now, but it’s not going to be a dramatic game changer.” He said, “airpower has not been a decisive factor so far,” citing the effectiveness of ground-based air defense systems. “The F-16s are going to help the Ukrainians, but it’s not going to fundamentally change that equation,” he remarked.
Kendall acknowledged, however, that time has come to start thinking on this issue. “We could certainly have started earlier, but there were much higher priorities,” he said.
At a meeting Monday in Poland, defense ministers from northern European countries showed “great support” for training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets.
“Great support for the goal of training F-16 pilots for Ukraine,” Denmark’s Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen said in a tweet, adding that Denmark is ready to play a central role.
U.S. President Joe Biden also affirmed U.S. support for a joint effort with allied and partner nations to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft such as the F-16.
During the G-7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, that ended Sunday, Biden told reporters that he had received a “flat assurance” from Zelenskyy that Ukraine would not use Western-provided F-16 fighter jets to go into Russian territory and that such warplanes would be used “wherever Russian troops are within Ukraine and the area.”
Responding to a question by VOA’s Russian service at the G-7 Summit, Zelenskyy said that discussions on the delivery of F-16s have come a “step further,” starting with the training of Ukrainian pilots on the aircraft, which he affirmed that Ukraine plans to complete as soon as possible.
“We will be working for these people to be as educated as possible, as trained and experienced as possible with huge experience to decrease this process of training to make it short,” he told VOA. “I cannot tell you how many aircraft we’ll be able to get. I cannot tell you definitely when it will take place, but we will speed it up because it’s important for us every day. We’re losing our people.”
Ukraine has not yet won commitments to receive F-16 jets from allies.
Senior Russian diplomats said Monday the transfer of F-16 jets to Ukraine would raise the question of NATO’s involvement in the conflict and would not undermine Russia’s military goals.
VOA Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze and National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.