UN warns of danger of 'severe nuclear accident' as Putin orders evacuation of town near plant captured by Russia

7 May 2023, 20:48

People being evacuated from Zaporizhzhia
People being evacuated from Zaporizhzhia. Picture: Telegram/Getty

By Emma Soteriou

The head of the United Nations' (UN) nuclear watchdog has warned of the threat of a "severe nuclear accident" after Putin ordered the evacuation of a town near a plant Russia captured at the start of its invasion of Ukraine.

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International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi expressed growing concern about the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, after the governor of the Russia-occupied area ordered the evacuation of a town where most of the plant's staff live amid ongoing attacks in the area.

The plant is near the front lines of fighting, and Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday that a 72-year-old woman was killed and three other people injured when Russian forces fired more than 30 shells at Nikopol, a Ukrainian-held town close to the plant.

"The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous," Mr Grossi said in a warning on Saturday.

"I'm extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant."

Mr Grossi's comments were prompted by an announcement on Friday by Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed governor of the partially-occupied Zaporizhzhia province, that he had ordered the evacuation of civilians from 18 settlements in the area, including Enerhodar, which is located next to the power plant, which is Europe's largest.

Read more: Ukraine accuses Russia of using phosphorous bombs in bid 'to destroy' Bakhmut

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Queues leading out of the region
Queues leading out of the region. Picture: Telegram/Ivan Fedorov

The settlements affected are 30-40 miles (50-70km) from the front line of fighting between Ukraine and Russia, and Mr Balitsky said Ukraine has intensified attacks on the area in the past several days.

The region is also widely seen as a likely focus for Ukraine's anticipated spring counter-offensive.

Some of the fiercest ongoing fighting is in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces are still clinging to a position on the western outskirts despite Russia trying to take the city for more than nine months. R

ussian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday that Moscow's forces had captured two more districts in the city's west and north-west, but provided no further details.

It comes after Ukraine's Special Operations Forces on Saturday accused Russia of using phosphorous in the city and on Sunday released a new video showing the tell-tale white fire from such munitions.

International law prohibits the use of white phosphorus or other incendiary weapons - munitions designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries - in areas where there could be concentrations of civilians, though it can also be used for illumination or to create smoke screens.

Russian forces have not commented on the claim, but have rejected previous accusations from Ukraine that they had used phosphorus munitions.