Russian forces are bombing towns in southern Ukraine from a position inside Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, according to a report on Monday.
Russian artillery firing from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant on the Dnipro River does not fear retaliation, Ukrainian officials say, as collateral damage from a Ukrainian strike could be catastrophic, The New York Times reported.
“They are hiding there so as not to be hit,” Oleksandr Sayuk, the mayor of Nikopol – a Ukrainian town across the river from the factory, told the newspaper.
“Otherwise, why would they be at the power station? Using such an object as a shield is very dangerous.
The plant – about 75 miles downstream from the Ukrainian-controlled city of the same name – contains six nuclear reactors, among which the Russians built a small outpost after taking control of it in early March.
In July, the garrison included at least one BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher and several older BM-21 Grad rocket systems, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Russian troops reportedly laid landmines and dug trenches to protect their radioactive redoubt.
Elsewhere in the country, Ukrainian forces have used Western counter-battery radar systems and long-range precision rocket launchers to eliminate Russian artillery units that have shelled Ukrainian towns and military positions since the beginning of the war.
At the plant, however, no artillery piece is accurate enough to justify the risk of firing at a nuclear reactor.
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency announced last month that it used a suicide drone to attack Russian positions at the factory, killing three people and injuring 12. The agency claimed to have destroyed a rocket launcher during of the attack and started a fire which damaged a number of Russian tents at the site.
Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of Enerhodar – the town where the facility is located – is a former engineer at the plant. He told the New York Times on Monday that only a direct hit to the reactors would penetrate the concrete containment buildings that are one meter thick.
But such a blow could be catastrophic, sending the plant into meltdown or risking an explosion that would send radioactive fallout hundreds of miles away.
Orlov also said there was a risk that an errant Ukrainian shell could hit the facility’s spent fuel storage, spreading the highly radioactive material to a more confined area, similar to a dirty bomb.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has been pressuring Russia for access to the plant since shortly after the takeover, with no success so far.
Last month, the same day Ukrainian intelligence announced their drone strike on Russian forces hiding in the plant, the IAEA issued a statement expressing concern over the “increasingly alarming situation”. in the facility.
“It is extremely important that no action is taken which could in any way compromise the safety of this plant, which is also the largest in Europe. During a conflict of this nature, a nuclear installation can be accidentally damaged. It should be avoided at all costs,” the agency said.
New York Post