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A view of the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on 15 June 2023. (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Drone Attack Hits Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine

Drones struck at least three direct hits against the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant’s main reactor containment structures in Ukraine this weekend, significantly increasing the risk of a major nuclear accident, according to the head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

This is the first attack to hit the power plant since November 2022, and officials at the Russian-controlled site said Ukrainian military “self-exploding” drones were to blame. Officials in Kyiv denied the allegation, and instead accused Russia of endangering the facility and the surrounding population. The IAEA did not attribute blame, the Associated Press reported.

“This is a major escalation of the nuclear safety and security dangers facing the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. Such reckless attacks significantly increase the risk of a major nuclear accident and must cease immediately,” said IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi in a statement.

“No one can conceivably benefit or get any military or political advantage from attacks against nuclear facilities,” he continued. “This is a no go. I firmly appeal to military decision makers to abstain from any action violating the basic principles that protect nuclear facilities.”

The attacks produced no critical damage, plant authorities said, and radiation levels at the plant were normal. The IAEA confirmed physical impacts from drone attacks at the plant, with the “potential to undermine integrity of the reactor’s containment system.” IAEA officials also confirmed one casualty as a result of the attack.

“The power plant has been caught in the crossfire since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in 2022 and seized the facility shortly after,” the AP reported. “The IAEA has repeatedly expressed alarm about the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, amid fears of a potential nuclear catastrophe. Both Ukraine and Russia have regularly accused the other of attacking the plant, which is still close to the front lines.”

The plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months, but the site needs power and staff to operate cooling systems and other safety features.

“Shelling of Zaporizhzhia NPP and its infrastructure is unacceptable,” according to a statement from the site. “No nuclear power plant in the world is designed to withstand full-fledged fire from the armed forces. Damage to infrastructure facilities may affect the safe operation of the NPP.”

The power plant has been a flashpoint during the war between Russia and Ukraine, CNN reported. Russia warned that Ukrainian shelling around the plant could lead to a radioactive incident, trying to discourage Ukraine from conducting its counteroffensive operations. Meanwhile Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in July 2023 that Russian troops had placed “objects resembling explosives” on rooftops at the plant—allegations that the Kremlin denied.

Although the fighting around the plant sparks fears of a nuclear disaster, the cooled reactors would not recreate a Chernobyl-style meltdown, according to CNN analysis.

The war continues to rage well into its third year of conflict. The frontlines have remained largely static in recent months, and Russia occupies around a fifth of Ukraine’s territory. Russian forces are probing the front lines with missile bombardment, CNN reported, to see where it can pierce through Ukrainian defenses. Zelensky continues to ask other nations for military aid, warning that “millions” could die in the war if aid is not approved.