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Lviv (Ukraine/Kyiv/Paris) (Reuters) – A massive fire broke out at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Friday and officials said the plant in southeastern Ukraine was operating normally after it was captured by Russian forces in the fighting that caused global alarm. .
Separately, a presidential adviser said Ukraine halted an advance in the city of Mykolaiv after local authorities said Russian troops had entered. If captured, the city of 500,000 people in southern Ukraine, where Russian forces have made the biggest advance to date, would be the largest city that has not yet fallen.
Officials said the fire in the Zaporizhzhya complex was in a training center and not in the factory itself. An official at Energoatom, the state company that operates four nuclear plants in Ukraine, said there was no further fighting, the fire had been extinguished, the radiation was normal and Russian forces were under control.
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“The workers in their workplaces provide the normal operation of the plant,” the official told Reuters in a message.
He said his organization is no longer in contact with plant managers, nor does it control the radiation situation there or oversee potentially dangerous nuclear materials in its six reactors and about 150 containers of spent fuel.
The Russian Defense Ministry also said the plant was operating normally. It blamed the fire on a “brutal attack” by Ukrainian saboteurs and said its forces were in control.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said the plant was not damaged by what is believed to be a Russian missile. Only one reactor was running at about 60% of its capacity.
He described the situation as still tense, as the factory is operating normally, adding: “There is nothing normal about this.”
Video from the factory, verified by Reuters earlier, showed one building burning in a hail of incoming shells before a large glowing ball lit up in the sky and exploded next to a parking lot, sending smoke billowing across the complex.
The possibility that the fighting would cause a potential nuclear catastrophe sent global financial markets into a tailspin.
Russia’s control of a plant that provides more than a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity was a major development after eight days of war in which other Russian advances were stymied by fierce resistance.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and other Western officials said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels.
“Europeans, please wake up. Tell the politicians that Russian forces are shooting at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address. In another speech, he called on the Russians to protest. Read more
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or injured and more than a million refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the biggest attack on a European country since World War II.
Russian forces advancing from three directions surrounded Ukrainian cities and bombarded them with artillery and air raids. Moscow says its goal is to disarm its neighbor and arrest leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies view this as a baseless excuse to launch a war to invade the country of 44 million people.
Russia had already taken over the defunct Chernobyl plant north of Kyiv, which dumped radioactive waste across much of Europe when it melted in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different, safer kind.
The escalation of protests and sanctions
In Russia itself, where Putin’s main opponents have been largely imprisoned or exiled, the war has been accompanied by further suppression of dissent. Authorities banned reports referring to a “special military operation” as a “war” or “invasion.” Anti-war demonstrations were suppressed, with thousands arrested.
On Friday, authorities closed foreign broadcasters including BBC, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle. Two independent Russian broadcasters, TV Dozhd (Rain) and Radio Ekho Moskvy, were closed Thursday. The lower house of parliament on Friday introduced legislation to impose prison terms on people for publishing “false” reports about the military. Read more
Russia has been subjected to unprecedented economic isolation in such a huge economy, although there is a significant exception for its oil and gas exports. Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said more EU sanctions were coming.
“I suspect that all Russian-flagged ships will be prevented from entering EU ports. I also suspect that we will ban other imports such as steel, timber, aluminum and possibly coal as well,” Coveney told Irish national radio RTE.
Only one Ukrainian city, the southern port of Kherson, has fallen to Russian forces since the invasion began on February 24.
Local authorities in the shipbuilding city of Mykolaiv asked residents not to panic, and the Russian advance there was halted, Zelensky’s military adviser, Oleksiy Aristovich, said.
“We can be cautiously optimistic about the future prospects of the enemy attack – I think it will be stopped in other areas as well,” he said.
Loud explosions were heard in Kyiv on Friday morning, and air raid sirens sounded. Britain said in an intelligence update that the southeastern port city of Mariupol was cordoned off and under intense attack.
In the northeast, along another major axis of Russian offensive, the cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv have been bombed since the start of the sharply worsening invasion this week, but the defenders are holding out.
Kyiv, the capital of 3 million people, was bombed but so far escaped a major assault, with Russia’s main offensive force stalled for days in a mile-long convoy on a highway to the north. In Washington, a US defense official said the Russians were still 25 kilometers from downtown Kyiv.
Russia and Ukraine negotiators agreed at peace talks on Thursday on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians flee and get medicine and food into combat zones.
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Additional reporting by Pavel Politiuk, Natalia Zenets, Alexander Vasovich in Ukraine, John Irish in Paris, François Murphy in Vienna, David Leungren in Ottawa and other Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graf, Costas Pettas, Lincoln Vista; Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron Moore and Timothy Heritage
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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