The explosions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Russia has controlled since shortly after its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, were not immediately known to have been caused by one side or the other.
Whoever fired on the plant was taking “huge risks and gambling with many people’s lives,” said Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Grossi said in a statement late Sunday, describing the situation as a “close call.”
The plant was repeatedly shelled during the war, raising fears of a major disaster in the country that suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident, the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.
The concern of a serious catastrophe has increased as a result of frequent shelling throughout the war.
A volley of missile strikes by Russia in retaliation to its military failures, many of which targeted power plants, have left much of the country without energy as winter sets in and temperatures plunge below freezing level.
As they did frequently in previous months following attacks on the plant or close by, both sides have traded responsibility for the most recent bombardment.
An IAEA team on the ground reported that damaged infrastructure included a radioactive waste and storage building, cooling pond systems, a cable to one of the reactors, a bridge to another reactor, and auxiliary buildings, according to information provided by plant management.
Although Russian nuclear power operator Rosenergoatom said there would be restrictions on what they could inspect, the team will conduct an assessment on Monday, according to Grossi.
Access will be denied, according to Renat Karchaa, an advisor to Rosenergoatom’s CEO, if they want to inspect a facility that has nothing to do with nuclear safety.
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Zaporizhzhia plant supplied about a fifth of the country’s electricity and has frequently had to run on backup generators.
The six Soviet-designed reactors at the plant are off, but if the power to the cooling systems is cut, there is a chance that nuclear fuel could overheat. Shelling frequently destroys electricity wires.
Russia’s defense ministry claimed that Ukraine had fired shells at the plant’s power supply lines.
Energoatom, a nuclear energy company in Ukraine, said that Russian armed forces attacked the plant and charged them with nuclear extortion and activities “endangering the whole planet.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video message on Sunday night said Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine have been heavily bombarding Ukrainian frontline positions with artillery fire. The strikes have been particularly intense in the Donetsk region.
“The fiercest battles, as before, are in the Donetsk region. Although there were fewer attacks today due to worsening weather, the amount of Russian shelling, unfortunately, remains extremely high,” Zelensky added.