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The UN's nuclear watchdog has condemned attacks on the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, as Moscow and Kyiv traded blame.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi on November 20 said that "powerful explosions" hit the nuclear plant on the evening of November 19 and again early on November 20, and demanded that whichever country was behind the attacks cease them immediately.
Such attacks on Europe's largest nuclear plant, Grossi said, risked a major nuclear disaster.
"The news from our team yesterday and this morning is extremely disturbing," Grossi said. "Explosions occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable. Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately. As I have said many times before, you're playing with fire!"
An IAEA team on the ground reported that some of the plant's buildings, systems, and equipment were damaged in the attacks.
Ukrainian energy agency Enerhoatom accused Russian forces of shelling the facility on November 20, saying that at least 12 strikes were recorded "on the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant." Enerhoatom said that "once again" Russia was "putting the whole world at risk."
Russia's Defense Ministry on November 20 accused Ukrainian forces of firing on power lines that supply the plant, while the state news agency TASS quoted an official from Russian nuclear power operator Rosenergoatom as saying that some of the site's storage facilities had been hit.
The official, Renat Karchaa, an adviser to Rosenergoatom's CEO, alleged that the shells had targeted a dry nuclear-waste storage facility and a building that houses spent nuclear fuel, but that no radioactive emissions had been detected, TASS reported.
In recent months, Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of targeting the plant, which Russian forces took control of shortly after their invasion of Ukraine in February. The reactors at the Soviet-designed plant have been shut down, but there is a risk that nuclear fuel could overheat if power supplies to the plant's cooling systems are cut off. The plant has been forced to operate on back-up generators a number of times since the Russian invasion.
Elsewhere in the Zaporizhzhya region, Russian forces shelled civilian infrastructure in about a dozen communities, destroying 30 homes, the Ukrainian presidency said.
In the central Dnipropetrovsk region, one person was wounded and 20 buildings damaged in shelling of Nikopol, a city across the river from the Zaporizhzhya plant, the report said. Three districts in the northern Kharkiv region also came under Russian artillery fire in the past 24 hours.
In the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, Russian shelling killed one person in Donetsk and damaged power lines, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office.
The situation in the southern Kherson region “remains difficult,” the report said, citing the General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces. Russian forces fired tank shells, rockets, and other artillery at the city of Kherson, which was recently liberated from Ukrainian forces.
The latest incidents come as Russian forces have reportedly bolstered their defenses around the city of Zaporizhzhya and increased the intensity of fighting in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukraine's military has said that Russian forces have targeted Ukrainian energy infrastructure around the country with missile strikes and drones in recent weeks. The recently liberated city of Kherson, located 300 kilometers southwest of Zaporizhzhya, has been hit at least 42 times since November 18, according to a local official.
Many parts of Ukraine, including Kyiv, are suffering sporadic, sometime prolonged power and heating disruptions, a problem that has worsened as winter weather set in this week. Nearly 50 percent of the country's energy infrastructure has been disabled by Russian strikes, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said this week.
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