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The backstory: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the largest in Europe, and it’s located in Enerhodar, Ukraine. Last October, Russia declared control over the plant, but it’s been occupying the plant and its territory since early in the war. Russia has kept on the plant’s Ukrainian workers and also brought in some Russian workers. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, it’s been cut from the national electricity grid seven times and forced to run on its emergency diesel generators during these blackouts.
More recently: The Zaporizhzhia plant has drawn a lot of attention, with both Ukraine and Russia accusing one another of shelling the surrounding area. In June, the destruction of the Kakhovka dam sparked fears in Ukraine that Russia could be planning to blow up the plant. And Ukrainian spy chief Kyrylo Budanov said Russia has plans to blow up the artificial pond that cools down the power station. This info hasn’t been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the agency hasn’t had full access to the whole site. Last week, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine held radioactive safety drills in the Zaporizhzhia region, and Ukrainian military intelligence noticed that the Russian military contingent and Russian-backed nuclear power plant workers were starting to leave.
The development: Ukrainian officials are now warning of a possible disaster at the plant. Ukrainian intelligence says that Russian workers were told to leave by July 5 and blame Ukraine for any emergencies. But Russia’s own foreign ministry is saying that these radioactive safety drills and additional radiation measurement devices Ukraine has prepared are a sign that “Kyiv is preparing a false flag” plan. Neither Ukraine nor Russia has provided evidence to back up their claims. Civilians in nearby areas are preparing for a possible disaster by stocking up on food and water, buying masks and taking part in emergency drills. If a nuclear disaster happens, about 300,000 people would be evacuated from the areas near the plant.
“There is a serious threat. Russia is technically ready to provoke a local explosion at the plant, which could lead to the release of dangerous substances into the air,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said to Spanish journalists this past weekend. “We are discussing all this with our partners so that everyone understands why Russia is doing this and put pressure on the Russian Federation politically so that they don’t even think about such a thing.”
“Among the first to leave the station were three Rosatom employees, who managed the actions of the Russians,” Ukrainian military intelligence said in a statement. “The personnel remaining at the station were instructed to blame Ukraine in case of any emergencies.”
“We do not intend to blow up this NPP [nuclear power plant], we have no intention of doing so,” said Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia.