Ukraine must “prepare for all scenarios” linked to a Russian-occupied nuclear plant, the interior minister has said during a drill for emergency workers in the nearby city of Zaporizhzhia.

Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant, the biggest atomic power station in Europe, which has been under Russian control since March.

The tensions around the facility have sparked fears of another nuclear disaster in Europe like the one in Chernobyl in then Soviet Ukraine in 1986.

“Nobody could have predicted that Russian troops would be firing on nuclear reactors with tanks. It is incredible,” Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia, 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the plant.

After watching a nuclear accident drill on Wednesday, he said Ukraine should be prepared since “as long as the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is controlled by Russia, there are major risks”.

Dozens of Ukrainian emergency workers wearing gas masks and hazmat suits took part in the drill in which they practised evacuating an injured person and washing down contaminated vehicles.

The head of Ukraine’s state nuclear agency Energoatom, Petro Kotin, said around 500 Russian soldiers and 50 armoured vehicles were at the plant.

Russia has said it does not have any heavy weapons or troops there except for guard units.

Ukraine has accused Russia of firing on the plant in order to accuse Ukraine of doing it, while Russia has accused Kyiv of shelling the facility.

It is impossible to independently verify the claims.

Russia says ‘no heavy weapons’ deployed at Ukraine nuclear plant
Moscow (AFP) Aug 18, 2022 –
Russia’s defence ministry said Thursday that its forces did not have heavy weapons deployed at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, accusing Kyiv of preparing a “provocation” at the station.

“Russian troops have no heavy weapons either on the territory of the station or in areas around it. There are only guard units,” the ministry said in a statement.

Pointing to accusations that Russian forces have been shelling Ukrainian positions from the territory of the station, the ministry said Kyiv was planning a “provocation” during a visit to Ukraine by UN chief Antonio Guterres that would see Moscow “accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant”.

It said Ukraine was deploying forces in the area and planned to launch artillery strikes on the plant from the city of Nikopol on Friday, when Guterres is due to visit Odessa.

“The blame for the consequences (of the strikes) will be placed on the Russian armed forces,” it said.

Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine in March, shortly after moving into the country.

The plant is the largest of its kind in Europe and uncertainty surrounding it has fuelled fears of a nuclear accident to rival the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that it was “urgent” to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the plant and for Russian forces to withdraw.

He said Moscow’s control of the plant “raises the risks of a nuclear accident or incident”.