PM says Putin 'threatens Europe's safety' as Russians seize Ukrainian nuclear plant

4 March 2022, 01:08 | Updated: 4 March 2022, 13:02

  • Fire breaks out at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant after Russian tank attack
  • Fire caused by ‘continuous enemy shelling,’ says local mayor
  • UN's atomic watchdog said there has been no release of radioactive material following Russian attack
  • Plant seized by Russians, according to local authorities
  • Downing St: 'Reckless actions of President Putin could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe'
  • Deputy PM Dominic Raab tells LBC attack is a "totally despicable act"
  • Russia has seized one city - Kherson in southern Ukraine
  • Port city of Mariupol under consistent attack

By Megan Hinton

Russian shelling sparked a fire at Europe's biggest nuclear plant in an attack which Boris Johnson said "could directly threaten the safety of all of Europe."

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A fire broke out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant following an attack from Putin's tanks, in the battle for control of a crucial energy-producing city.

Local authorities said this morning that the Russian forces had taken over the plant.

Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: "People of Russia, how is it even possible? We fought the consequences of the 1986 Chornobyl disaster together. Did you forget? If you remember it, you can't stay silent. Tell your leadership you want to live."

Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba's warned if the Zaporizhzhia plant "blows up" it would have been ten times bigger than the Chernobyl disaster.

Russian tanks attacked the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant
Russian tanks attacked the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Picture: Twitter/Alamy

He urged Russian troops to hold their fire "from all sides" so firefighters can set up a security zone. Firefighters trying to put out the blaze were reportedly being shot at.

However the fire was eventually extinguished this morning after raging for several hours. A statement said: "At 06:20 the fire at the Zaporizhzhia NPP training building in Enerhodar was extinguished.

"There are no dead or injured". Radiation levels are normal.

Several hours earlier Andriy Tuz, a spokesperson for the Zaporizhzhia plant, said in a video that one of the six reactors was on fire, but the reactor was not in use. "There is a real threat of nuclear danger in the biggest atomic energy station in Europe," he said.

The plant in the Ukrainian city of Energodar accounts for about one-quarter of Ukraine’s power generation.

Plant spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that shells were falling directly on the Zaporizhzhia plant and had set fire to one of the facility's six reactors.

The latest progress on the Russian attack, according to the MoD
The latest progress on the Russian attack, according to the MoD. Picture: Ministry of Defence

Shells have fallen directly on the Zaporizhzhia plant, but the reactor on fire is under renovation and not operating, AP reported. There is nuclear fuel inside, however.

A Downing Street spokeswoman called the situation "gravely concerning" this morning.

"Both leaders agreed that Russia must immediately cease its attack on the power station and allow unfettered access for emergency services to the plant," she said.

"The Prime Minister said the reckless actions of President Putin could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe. He said the UK would do everything it could to ensure the situation did not deteriorate further.

"The Prime Minister said he would be seeking an emergency UN Security Council meeting in the coming hours, and that the UK would raise this issue immediately with Russia and close partners.

"Both leaders agreed a ceasefire was crucial."

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast this morning that the bombing of the plant by Russian forces was "outrageous and totally reprehensible" and a "totally despicable act."

“It is outrageous and totally reprehensible. The fact that the bombardment continued when the Ukrainian emergency services were going to put out the fire. It’s clearly a totally despicable act.”

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A YouTube live stream of the power plant appeared to show missiles being fired before the plant burst into flames.

Later flashing lights of emergency vehicles were reportedly seen arriving to the scene, but their path was blocked by Russian armed forces.

The fighting at Enerhodar, a city on the Dnieper River, came as another round of talks between the two sides yielded a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors inside Ukraine to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid.

Elsewhere, Russian forces gained ground in their bid to cut off the country from the sea, as Ukrainian leaders called on citizens to rise up and wage guerrilla war against the invaders.

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The mayor of Enerhodar said Ukrainian forces were battling Russian troops on the city's outskirts.

Dmytro Orlov urged residents not to leave their homes.

Moscow's advance on Ukraine's capital in the north has apparently stalled over the past few days, with a huge armoured column outside Kyiv at a standstill.

And stiffer than expected resistance from the outmanned, outgunned Ukrainians has staved off the swift victory that Russia may have expected.

But the Russian forces have brought their superior firepower to bear in the past few days, launching missile and artillery attacks on civilian areas and making significant gains in the south as part of an effort to sever the country's connection to the Black and Azov seas.

Cutting Ukraine's access to the coastline would deal a crippling blow to the country's economy and allow Russia to build a land corridor stretching from its border, across Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014, and all the way west to Romania.

The Russians announced the capture of Kherson, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed that forces have taken over local government headquarters in the vital Black Sea port of 280,000, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago.

Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Azov Sea, plunging it into darkness, isolation and fear. Electricity and phone service were largely down, and homes and shops faced food and water shortages. Without phone connections, medics did not know where to take the wounded.

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Mr Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron that he was determined to press on with his attack "until the end", according to an official in the French president's office.

Mr Macron admitted his efforts to broker peace had not yet borne fruit, saying in a tweet: "I spoke to President Putin this morning.

"He refuses to stop his attacks on Ukraine at this point.

"It is vital to maintain dialogue to avoid human tragedy.

"I will continue my efforts and contacts.

"We must avoid the worst."

Despite a profusion of evidence of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure by the Russian military, Mr Putin also called accusations that his military had attacked residential areas part of "an anti-Russian disinformation campaign" and insisted that Russia uses "only precision weapons to exclusively destroy military infrastructure". Ukrainians still in the country faced another grim day.