Russia rejects call to demilitarise nuclear plant
Russia has rejected calls for the region surrounding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southern Ukraine to be completely demilitarized.
According to a Russian official, the relocation would render the facility more susceptible.
The calls come as both sides accuse each other of bombarding the region, raising concerns about safety at the complex, Europe’s largest nuclear reactor.
The factory, which has been under Russian administration since March, is run by Ukrainian personnel.
It was one of the first areas taken by Russian soldiers during the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
After meeting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Lviv on Thursday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a warning.
“Any possible harm to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” said Mr. Guterres.
The Ukrainian president requested the UN to ensure the demilitarization of Europe’s largest nuclear power facility. The facility “must not be utilized as part of any military activity,” Mr. Guterres continued.
Mr. Erdogan reiterated the UN Secretary-General’s fears, telling reporters that he was concerned about the possibility of a “second Chernobyl” calamity erupting at the facility.
Mr. Zelensky has condemned Russia’s “deliberate” strikes on the power facility.
Moscow is accused of converting the facility into an army camp, and all three leaders have urged Russia to demilitarize the zone as quickly as possible.
The call, however, was rebuffed by Ivan Nechayev, deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department.
“Their implementation will increase the plant’s vulnerability,” Mr. Nechayev told reporters.
The requests come as Ukrainian workers at the plant, under Russian command, have warned of a potential nuclear disaster, claiming that the facility has been “the focus of constant military strikes” in the last two weeks.
“What is occurring is awful and beyond common reason and morals,” employees said in a Telegram message (in Ukrainian).
Later that day, the Ukrainian government’s official Twitter account reported that members of Rosatom, Russia’s national nuclear business, had “urgently” evacuated the site and that an “unexpected day off” had been declared.
“Ukrainian intelligence officers suspect the Russians are planning an attack at the [facility],” Ukraine’s Centre for Information Security tweeted.
“Following their heavy bombardment, [Russian forces] might ‘up the stakes’ and launch a true terrorist attack on Europe’s largest nuclear station,” the report claimed.
The BBC was unable to confirm the accusations.
Despite these worries, the site is claimed to be significantly more secure than the Chornobyl plant, which was the location of the most significant nuclear disaster in history.
Experts told the BBC in March that the reactor is housed in a steel-reinforced concrete structure that can “withstand extreme external occurrences, both natural and man-made, such as an airplane crash or explosions.”