Updated Mar 4, 2022 - World

Russian forces seize Europe's largest nuclear power station

A screen grab captured from a video shows a view of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a fire following clashes around the site in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on March 4
A screen grab captured from a video shows a view of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a fire following clashes around the site in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on Friday. Photo: Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukrainian officials said Friday they've extinguished a fire near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southeastern Ukraine that ignited during shelling by Russian forces, but confirmed that Russia's military had "seized" the plant.

The latest: Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator, said in a Telegram statement that the "administrative building and the checkpoint" at Europe's largest nuclear power station "are under occupiers' control."

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Austria points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a news conference at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria on Friday. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images
  • "The plant's staff continues to work on power units, ensuring the stable operation of nuclear facilities,” Energoatom added. "Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded among the Ukrainian defenders of the station."

The big picture: The United Nations' nuclear watchdog and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm both said the plant was secure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian forces of "nuclear terror," according to a translation by the Ukrainian Embassy in D.C.

  • President Biden said after speaking with Zelensky over the phone that Russia should "cease its military activities in the area," per a White House statement.
  • Rafael Grossi, director-general of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said at a news conference Friday "there has not been a release of radioactive material and the integrity of the reactors has not been compromised," but added that the situation remains "extremely tense and challenging."

What they're saying: "Russian tanks are shooting at the nuclear blocks. These are tanks equipped with thermal imagers, so they know what they are shooting at. They have prepared for it," Zelensky said in an emotional middle-of-the-night video post.

  • "Our boys have always kept the nuclear plant safe. We made sure no provocations could happen," he continued. "No country has ever shot at nuclear blocks except for Russia. First time ever."
  • He called on European leaders to "wake up" and stop Russia's military "before there is "a nuclear catastrophe," according to the translation.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine tweeted: "It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant. Putin's shelling of Europe's largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further."

State of play: Ukrainian official Oleksandr Starukh said earlier that the "director of the plant said that the nuclear safety is now guaranteed," AFP reports.

  • The IAEA said in a Twitter post that the fire in a training building near the plant had "not affected 'essential' equipment, plant personnel taking mitigatory actions."
  • U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm concurred with this assessment, tweeting after speaking with her Ukrainian counterpart: "The plant's reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down."

Meanwhile, Biden spoke with the undersecretary for nuclear security of the U.S. Department of Energy and administrator of the national nuclear security administration to receive an update on the situation at the plant, the White House said. He will continue to be briefed regularly.

  • Granholm said that her department had "activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team and is monitoring events in consultation with" the Defense Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Privacy Policy and the White House.

What to watch: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will seek "an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting in the coming hours" over the shelling of the plant, according to a statement from his office following a phone call with Zelensky.

By the numbers: The plant provides roughly 25% of Ukraine's power generation, according to AP.

Flashback: Russian forces last month seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Go deeper: The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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