Powerful explosions have shaken Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region that is the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
The global nuclear watchdog called for “urgent measures to help prevent a nuclear accident” in the Russian-occupied facility.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said two explosions near the Zaporizhzhia plant abruptly ended a period of relative calm around the nuclear facility that has been the site of fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces since the start of the war.
There have been fears of a nuclear catastrophe since Russian troops occupied the plant during the early days of the invasion of Ukraine.
Several buildings, systems and equipment at the power plant — none critical for the nuclear safety and security of the plant — were damaged in the shelling. There were no reports of casualties.
Mr Grossi said reports of shelling were “extremely disturbing.” He added: “Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately.
“As I have said many times before, you’re playing with fire!”
He appealed to both sides in the conflict to agree and implement a nuclear safety and security zone around the nuclear facility.
Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s power grid and other key infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts for millions of Ukrainians amid frigid winter weather with snow blanketing the capital, Kyiv, and other cities.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power operator said Russian forces were behind the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia plant.
Energoatom said the targeted and damaged equipment in the facility is consistent with Kremlin’s strategy “to damage or destroy as much of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as possible as” winter sets in.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, however, blamed Ukrainian forces, claiming they shelled the power plant twice. He also said two shells hit near the power lines supplying the plant with electricity.