Russian troops have seized the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine — the largest in Europe — hours after Russian shelling set a building on fire.
The Ukrainian emergency services announced that the fire, which broke out at a five-story training facility, was extinguished before it could spread and endanger the plant.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of targetting the Zaporizhzhya plant and triggering a nuclear catastrophe that could end up being "10 times larger than Chernobyl".
The Zaporizhzhia power plant is located in south-east Ukraine near the city of Enerhodar and is 550 km away from the capital Kyiv.
The power plant, built between 1984 and 1995, is the world's ninth-largest power plant generating 40-42 billion kWh annually. The plant accounts for one-fifth of Ukraine's energy production and 47 per cent of electricity generated by Ukrainian nuclear power plants.
What Happened At The Nuclear Plant?
At 2.30 am Ukrainian time, Kubela tweeted that the Zaporizhzhya plant had come under attack from Russian troops and a fire had broken out. "If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!" he added.
In a video statement, Zelenskiy accused Russia of deliberately targetting the plant and urged Europe to "wake up now" to prevent a nuclear catastrophe.
"The largest nuclear station in Europe is on fire. Right now Russian tanks are shelling nuclear units. Those are the tank that has thermal vision, so they know where they are shelling. If there will be an explosion, it will be the end to all of us, the end of Europe, the evacuation of Europe. Only immediate action of Europe can stop Russian troops and prevent the death of Europe from the disaster at a nuclear station," he said.
Andriy Tuz, a spokesperson for the plant, claimed that the first of the six energy units at the plant had been hit by Russian shelling which was later confirmed by state-run atomic energy agency, Energoatom.
Videos show tracer fire at the plant and a building on fire. Ukrainian emergency services in a statement said that a building outside the plant was on fire and under "normal limits".
Firefighters were able to douse the fire by 6 am local time.
Were Any Of The Reactors Hit?
The first reactor, built in 1984, was hit by Russian troops but was able to withstand the damage.
Ukraine's nuclear power regulator informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that there had been no change in radiation levels at the plant in the aftermath of the attack.
Experts say that nuclear reactors are built to withstand bombings with reactors designed to shut off in case of emergencies. The danger of a meltdown would only arise should the power supply to the cooling system be cut off.
"If the electricity is taken out, the backup generators kick in, but if those don't kick in or their diesel fuel is set on fire, for example, the pumps can't pump cold water into the reactor and into the spent fuel pools. That's necessary to keep the nuclear reaction moderated. Otherwise, the water will boil out and the core will go critical and explode," Mariana Budjeryn, a Research Associate at Harvard University's Belfer Center's Project on Managing the Atom told The Guardian.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm has said the reactors at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station "are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down".
Granholm tweeted that she had just spoken with Ukraine's energy minister about the situation at the plant, where a fire broke out during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. "We have seen no elevated radiation readings near the facility," Granholm said.
Last week, Russia had captured the Chernobyl plant, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. The Chernobyl disaster in the then-Soviet Ukraine sent clouds of nuclear material across much of Europe in 1986 after a botched safety test in the fourth reactor of the atomic plant.
Why is Chernobyl key for Russia? As per western military experts, Russia is using its ally Belarus as the fastest route to invasion. Chernobyl, the site of the nuclear accident, sits on this shortest route from Belarus to Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
Meanwhile, an Indian student was shot at in Ukraine capital Kyiv, days after another student died in Russian shelling in the city of Kharkiv. The student was trying to escape Kyiv and was wounded in firing, according to Union Minister VK Singh. "We heard reports that a student leaving Kyiv was shot. He was taken back into Kyiv and immediately taken to hospital. This is happening in the fighting," General (Retd) VK Singh told ANI at Poland's Rzeszow airport.