Ukraine calls for demilitarized zone around shelled nuclear power plant

  • Ukraine, Russia business attributed success to Zaporizhia plant
  • Cave warned of a Chornobyl-style disaster if the area is not protected
  • The UN’s Guterres says any attack on a nuclear power plant would be ‘suicide’
  • Two Ukrainian grain ships have been leaving 12 ports since last week

KYIV, Aug 8 (Reuters) – International alarm over weekend artillery attacks on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex escalated on Monday, with Kyiv warning of the risk of a Chornobyl-style disaster and calling for the area to become a demilitarized zone.

The United Nations leader called for access to the plant after Kiev and Moscow traded blame for shelling in the southern region seized by Russian invaders in March, and now targets Kiev for a counterattack.

“Any attack on a nuclear power plant would be an act of suicide,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference Monday in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Saturday.

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Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom, called for the deployment of a peacekeeping team at the Zaporizhzhia site, which is still run by Ukrainian technicians. read more

“The decision we demand from the international community and all our partners … is to withdraw the invaders from the station and create a demilitarized zone around the station,” Cotin said on television.

“Having peacekeepers in the zone, transferring control of it to them, and then controlling the station on the Ukrainian side would solve this problem.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday that Ukrainian shelling had damaged high-voltage power lines serving the Soviet-era plant, forcing it to cut production at two of its six reactors to “prevent malfunctions.” read more

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A Russian installation official in the Zaporizhzhya region previously said the facility was operating normally.

Ukraine blamed Russia for repeated shelling at the plant, which it said damaged three radiation sensors, leaving two workers hospitalized for shrapnel injuries.

The Russian-established authority in the Zaporizhzhia region said Ukrainian forces attacked the base with multiple rocket launchers, damaging administrative buildings and a storage area.

Reuters could not verify either side’s version of what happened.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the shelling “extremely dangerous” and added: “We expect countries that have absolute influence over the Ukrainian leadership to use this influence to reject the continuation of such shelling.”

Ukraine’s Kodin has flagged the risk of bombs hitting spent containers of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel as particularly dangerous. If two or more containers were broken, it was “impossible to estimate the scale of this disaster”.

The world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster occurred in 1986 when a reactor exploded at the Chornobyl complex in northwestern Ukraine. The plant was occupied by Russian forces after the February 24 invasion, and they left at the end of March.

Guterres said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needs access to the Zaporizhzhia plant. “We fully support the IAEA in all its efforts to create the conditions to stabilize the plant,” he said.

Ukraine has said it is planning a major counteroffensive in the Russian-occupied south, apparently centered on the western Zaporizhia city of Kherson, and has already retaken dozens of villages.

Grain exports pick up steam

Elsewhere, a deal to curb Ukraine’s food exports and ease global shortages came as two grain ships left Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, bringing the total to 12 since the first one left a week ago. read more

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Two recent outbound ships carried nearly 59,000 tons of corn and soybeans bound for Italy and southeastern Turkey. The four departed on Sunday carrying nearly 170,000 tons of corn and other food.

A grain export deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations on July 22 represents a rare diplomatic victory as fighting rages in Ukraine and helps ease war-torn world food prices.

Before the invasion, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports. The resulting disruption has raised fears of famine in some parts of the world.

Ukraine has said it hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain and 40 million from its new harvest to help rebuild its shattered economy.

Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine to root out nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked imperialist-style war to reassert control over its pro-Western neighbor, lost when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

The conflict has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in ruins.

After the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014, Russian forces have been trying to fully seize Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region from pro-Moscow separatists.

“Ukrainian soldiers are firmly holding the defense, inflicting casualties on the enemy and are ready for any changes in the operational situation,” Ukraine’s general staff said in an operational update on Monday.

Russian forces stepped up attacks in the Donbass north and northwest of the Russian-held city of Donetsk on Sunday, Ukraine’s military said. It said the Russians attacked Ukrainian positions near Pisky and Avdivka, and shelled other locations in Donetsk province.

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Russia is trying to consolidate its position in southern Ukraine, where it is building up forces in an attempt to prevent any counterattack near Kherson, Kyiv said.

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Report by Reuters Bureaus; Written by Stephen Coates and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick MacPhee

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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