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Ukraine’s Minister of Energy warned Monday that the “world is once again on the brink of nuclear disaster” after heavy shelling brought down Europe’s largest nuclear plant’s last transmission line.
In a written message shared on Facebook on Monday, Ukrainian Energy Secretary German Galushchenko said that the majority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission has left the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as the station “is depleted again.”
“The last line connecting it with the energy system of Ukraine — LEP 330 kW ZATES — Ferosplavna – separated due to the fire that occurred as a result of shelling,” Galushchenko wrote. “Any repair of the lines are impossible now— there are combat operations around the station.”
“The world is once again on the brink of nuclear disaster,” he added. “De-occupying the UPP and creating a demilitarized zone around it is the only way to ensure nuclear security.”
Energoatom, the facility’s operator, said in a statement that Russian forces have kept up “intensive shelling” of the area around Zaporizhzhia in recent days.
“This is a real, dangerous situation. It’s not just Ukrainians who are worried about it,” Rebekah Koffler, a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) intelligence officer, told Fox News Digital. “International experts in nuclear security have been concerned for the past several months. Structurally the plant is degraded to the point where it’s on its last leg.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. watchdog, said last Saturday that the plant had lost its last main line to the grid, but was still sending power to the grid through a reserve line. Monday’s developments came a day before U.N. inspectors were due to report on their efforts to avert a potential disaster at the Ukrainian site that has been engulfed by Russia’s war.
The Russian military had earlier Monday accused Ukrainian forces of staging “provocations” at the plant, which lies within a Russian-installed administrative area.
“This is part of the Russians’ asymmetric warfare – they captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant about a week after Russian forces invaded Ukraine,” Koffler said. “The idea is not necessarily to cause a nuclear disaster because that would be bad for Russia also given the proximity, but the idea is twofold – first is to threaten, to have this sword hanging over the Ukrainians and Europeans’ head this potential radiation, nuclear leak. But then the second, the practical reason is to actually cut the electricity from Ukrainians in order to freeze them in winter because this plant supplies about 20% of the electricity.”
“Russians have been using this plant as cover to strike the Ukrainians and when the Ukrainians shell – nobody is targeting advertently those reactors, nobody wants this, but that’s the outcome that the plant has been degraded,” Koffler added.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that Kyiv’s forces on Sunday targeted the territory of the plant with a drone, which it said Russian troops were able to shoot down.
The ministry said Ukrainian troops also shelled the adjacent city of Enerhodar twice overnight.
The two sides have traded accusations about endangering the plant, which the Kremlin’s forces have held since early March. The plant’s Ukrainian staff continue to operate it.
In a perilous mission, experts with the International Atomic Energy Agency traveled through the war zone to reach the plant last week.
Four of six U.N. nuclear agency inspectors have completed their work and left the site, Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear power plant operator, said Monday. Two of the experts are expected to stay at the plant on a permanent basis, Energoatom said.
Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, applauded the IAEA’s decision to leave some experts at the plant.
“There are Russian troops now who don’t understand what’s happening, don’t assess the risks correctly,” Podolyak said.
“There is a number of our workers there, who need some kind of protection, people from the international community standing by their side and telling (Russian troops): ‘Don’t touch these people, let them work,’” he added.
The U.N. inspectors are scheduled to brief the Security Council on Tuesday about what they found out on their visit. The plant is largely crippled, amid a grinding war that has clobbered energy markets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.