Ukraine’s state energy operator said there is a risk of radioactive leakage at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is Europe’s largest nuclear facility and currently under occupation by Russian troops.
Energoatom said on Saturday that Russian forces had “repeatedly shelled” the site in southern Ukraine over the past day, while the Russian defence ministry countered by accusing Ukrainian forces of launching attacks on the plant.
“As a result of periodic shelling, the infrastructure of the station has been damaged, there are risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and the fire hazard is high,” Energoatom said on Telegram.
The agency said that as of midday on Saturday (09:00 GMT) the plant “operates with the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards”.
Authorities began distributing iodine tablets on Friday to residents who live near the plant in case of a radiation leak.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had shelled the grounds of the nuclear facility in the last 24 hours.
“A total of 17 shells were fired, four of which hit the roof of Special Building No. 1, where 168 assemblies of US Westinghouse nuclear fuel are stored,” the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said 10 shells exploded near a dry storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and three more near a building that houses fresh nuclear fuel storage.
It said the radiation situation at the plant remained normal.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield report.
Recent satellite images from Planet Labs showed fires burning around the Zaporizhzhia complex over the last several days.
Kyiv and Moscow have for months traded accusations over shelling in the vicinity of the complex, located in the city of Enerhodar.
Regional authorities also said on Saturday that Russian forces fired missiles and artillery on Ukrainian-held areas across the river from the plant.
Grad rockets and artillery shells hit the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, each about 10 kilometres (six miles) and across the Dnieper river from the Zaporizhzhia plant, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region.
The Zaporizhzhia facility was seized by Russian troops in the opening weeks of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February and the site has remained on the front line of fighting ever since.
Ukrainian staff continue to operate the plant and in recent weeks both sides have traded blame for shelling near the plant.
On Thursday, the power plant was cut off from Ukraine’s national electricity grid for the first time in its four-decade history due to the “actions of the invaders”, Energoatom said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the power cut was caused by Russian shelling of the last active power line linking the plant to the network.
Power from the national grid was returned to the plant on Friday afternoon but Zelenskyy warned “the worst case scenario … is constantly being provoked by Russian forces”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is pressing to undertake a mission to the plant “as soon as possible to help stabilise the nuclear safety and security situation there”.
Officials said preparations for the visit were under way, but it remained unclear when it might take place.
Ukraine has claimed Russia is using the power plant as a shield by storing weapons there and launching attacks from around it.
Moscow, for its part, accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing at targets around the nuclear complex.