Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of the southeastern Ukrainian city of Energodar, warned on Sunday that the risk of a catastrophic radiation leak at the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was “increasing every day” due to Russia’s actions, according to AFP.
“What is happening [in Zaporizhzhia] is outright nuclear terrorism,” Orlov told the French news agency in an interview. “It can end unpredictably at any moment.”
The Zaporizhzhia plant, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, was captured by Russia within the first two weeks of the invasion. Since then, its status has remained divided, with Russian troops based at the plant but Ukrainian civilians allowed to continue working there. Because the two sides’ control over territory in the region has largely remained unchanged since the plant’s capture, it is located near the front line of the war and has periodically come under shelling, a situation that local authorities, Ukraine’s state-run Energoatom nuclear operator, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have each condemned as unacceptable. The IAEA has warned that damage to the reactor core, where nuclear fuel rods are stored, or to the storage area for spent but still highly radioactive fuel rods, could lead to a radiation leak rendering the surrounding areas uninhabitable. If a radiation leak occurred, Ukraine would need to shut down an active nuclear power plant, contain the radioactive fallout, and create an “exclusion zone” around Zaporizhzhia akin to the one surrounding the infamous Chernobyl plant in northern Ukraine—all in an active war zone.
Both Kyiv and Moscow have denied shelling the plant and have accused the other of carrying out the attacks, but Orlov insisted that Russia had been responsible.
“The invaders continue to terrorise the civilian population and the nuclear power plant,” the mayor said. “Fire safety rules are repeatedly violated. The situation is heating up, and the escalation continues.” Other reports from the Ukrainian side of the conflict have suggested that Russian troops stationed at the plant entered armored bunkers prior to the missile attacks, suggesting that they had been forewarned that the strikes were about to take place.
Russian forces have dismissed these allegations, with Russian-installed local governor Vladimir Rogov insisting on Telegram that the city and power plant were “again under fire by [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky’s militants.”
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.