Russia has rejected appeals by the United Nations, EU, G7 and Ukraine to completely demilitarize the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is Europe’s largest nuclear plant and has been under the control of the Russian military since March this year after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
UN Secretary General António Guterres made the call after meeting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Lviv on Thursday.
“Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” Guterres warned.
Guterres added that “the facility must not be used as part of any military operation”.
Turkey’s Erdogan echoed the UN chief’s concerns, telling reporters that he was worried about the danger of “another Chernobyl” disaster erupting at the plant. Erdovan said an impending disaster could be averted if both sides demilitarize the region.
Zelensky then criticised “deliberate” Russian attacks on the power plant accusing Moscow of turning the facility into an army base.
But Ivan Nechayev, deputy director of the Russian foreign ministry’s Information and Press Department, rejected the call.
“Their implementation will make the plant even more vulnerable,” Nechayev told reporters.
The appeals come as Ukrainian staff, who are working at the plant under Russian direction, warned of a potential nuclear catastrophe at the facility, saying in the past two weeks it has become “the target of continuous military attacks”.
“What is happening is horrific and beyond common sense and morality,” Zaporizhzhia staff wrote in a Telegram post (in Ukrainian).
Three of the four power supply lines linking the plant to the Ukrainian national grid have been damaged by shelling and Ukraine’s nuclear regulator has warned that a complete loss of power supply would mean that “nuclear fuel will begin melting, resulting in a release of radioactive substances to the environment”.
Despite concerns, the site is said to be far more secure than the Chernobyl plant – the site of the worst nuclear incident in history.
The reactor is in a steel-reinforced concrete building that can “withstand extreme external events, both natural and man-made, such as an aircraft crash or explosions,” according to military experts.