KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s nuclear power firm warned Sunday that rocket attacks on the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant risked a “nuclear disaster” as the governments of Russia and Ukraine traded blame for the explosions at the facility.
“This is particularly dangerous because these buildings are not built with the same kind of reinforced concrete that the reactor containment building is,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “These places were not designed as fortresses against external missile or artillery strikes.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged a “stronger response from the international community” following the attacks and said that he had spoken with Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, to seek further sanctions on Moscow’s nuclear industry. He accused the Kremlin of conducting “nuclear terror.”
The Russian-installed local government of Enerhodar, where the plant is located, accused Ukraine of hitting the facility using a 220mm Uragan multiple rocket launcher system.
“The administrative buildings and the adjacent territory of the storage facility were damaged,” it said in a statement given to Interfax news.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said the situation presented a dire threat to public health and the environment in Ukraine and far beyond its borders.
On Sunday, he demanded that he be allowed to visit the site with a team of nuclear experts. “We can put together a safety, security and safeguards mission and deliver the indispensable assistance and impartial assessment that is needed,” he said in a statement.
But the likelihood of an immediate visit appeared remote as fighting intensifies in the contested area.
The shelling also damaged radiation-monitoring sensors at the facility, and wounded at least one worker, Ukraine’s state nuclear power firm Energoatom said.
“This time a nuclear catastrophe was miraculously avoided, but miracles cannot last forever,” the company said in a statement Sunday.
At least 174 containers of spent nuclear fuel are stored at the site, which is Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant. According to Energoatom, Russian troops “aimed specifically” at the containers.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been under Russian control since March, but is run by Ukrainian workers.
According to the company, damage to technology at the facility meant that “timely detection and response in the event of a deterioration in the radiation situation or leakage of radiation from containers of spent nuclear fuel are not yet possible,” it said.
Russia originally seized the facility after one of its projectiles caused a fire in the plant’s complex, igniting concerns about the safety of Ukraine’s four nuclear sites that have continued in the months since.
The ongoing fighting has no precedent in military history, experts said.
“This is the first time in the history of the nuclear age that a major nuclear power facility for a sustained period of time is in the middle of an active war zone,” Kimball said.
He warned that loss of power at the plant also posed a significant threat. “Each of these power plants has a certain number of days for which they have backup diesel power generation,” he said.
Zelensky on Friday cited the attack on Zaporizhzhia as another reason Moscow should be recognized as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” which he has repeatedly called for since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
Russia’s Defense Ministry in turn has said that protection by Russian-backed forces was the reason the plant was not more extensively damaged.
Hassan reported from London. Praveena Somasundaram in Washington contributed to this report.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.
The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent answer to the annexations.
In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.
The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.