Fire out at Ukrainian nuclear plant after Russian shelling

A fire at Europe's largest nuclear power plant was extinguished Friday after Russian troops shelled it overnight in an attack that prompted fears of a Chernobyl-like disaster as Moscow continued its military invasion of Ukraine.

The fire caused by the assault on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, located in the eastern city of Enerhodar, was extinguished, according to the Associated Press, and no spikes in radiation were detected.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said Friday that a building hit by a Russian “projectile” at the plant was not part of the reactor.

There were conflicting reports about who now controls the plant. Ukrainian officials said Russian troops took control of the overall site, but that the plant’s staff were continuing to ensure its operations.

Grossi said that Ukrainians were in control of the reactor.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, points to a map.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, points to a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia power plant during a news conference in Vienna on Friday. (Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images)

The fire had sparked fears of a disaster similar to the 1986 explosion that incapacitated the Chernobyl nuclear plant and rendered parts of Ukraine a wasteland.

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet that if a reactor at the power plant were to blow up, “it will be 10 times larger” than Chernobyl.

President Biden spoke Thursday night with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and received an update on the fire at the power plant, the White House said.

On Wednesday, Russian troops took control of the city of Kherson, located about 140 miles down the Dnieper River from Enerhodar. Fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces is ongoing on the outskirts of Enerhodar.

Earlier Thursday, a Ukrainian representative told the United Nations that Russia was intent on attacking the plant, which houses 6 nuclear reactors.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine. (Reuters)

“This is the biggest power plant in Europe and the repercussions on the military attack on this site might be of global nature,” the Ukrainian representative said. “Distinguished delegates, we all remember and commemorate every year what happened in Chernobyl almost 36 years ago. Let us not repeat the catastrophe, the extent of which goes way beyond the territory of Ukraine.”

The fear among nuclear experts and government officials is that a military strike on the power plant could damage a reactor and result in the spread of deadly radioactive material.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator asked the International Atomic Energy Agency for help securing its nuclear power plants. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said it was unclear when such assistance could be provided given that fighting in Ukraine showed no sign of slowing down.

“The best action to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and its people would be for this armed conflict to end now,” he said.

In a tweet posted late Thursday, the IAEA said Grossi had spoken with Ukrainian officials about the situation at Zaporizhzhia. Grossi, the tweet noted, warned of “severe danger” if a reactor at the facility was hit in a military strike.