- Russian forces occupying the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant seem to be using the facility as a shield.
- UK intelligence said their actions have put the plant’s safety and security in jeopardy.
- Ukraine has been reluctant to strike the plant, fearing it could cause a major accident or disaster.
Reckless activity by Russian forces occupying southern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has put the facility’s security and safety in question, UK intelligence suggested on Friday.
“Following five months of occupation, Russia’s intentions regarding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant remain unclear,” the UK’s defense ministry wrote in an intelligence update. “However, the actions they have undertaken at the facility have likely undermined the security and safety of the plant’s normal operations.”
UK intelligence suggested that Russian forces are using artillery units in areas adjacent to the plant to attack Ukrainian positions on the other side of the Dnipro River, also called the Dnieper.
President Vladimir Putin’s troops have likely used the plant’s general area to rest, UK intelligence assessed, while using “the protected status of the nuclear power plant to reduce the risk to their equipment and personnel from overnight Ukrainian attacks.”
Russian forces captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant — the largest in Europe — in early March, just days after the unprovoked war in Ukraine began. Intense fighting around the plant led to “grave” concerns from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which warned of the increasing potential for a major accident.
Experts previously told Insider that the risk for a major disaster at the plant is low, but throwing active conflict into the mix raises the potential for an accident.
Despite making some limited attempts to gain control over the plant, Ukrainian forces have so far been reluctant to strike the occupying Russian troops because they fear an attack might jeopardize the safety of the nuclear reactors.
“How can we respond?” Ukraine’s Col. Serhiy Shatalov asked rhetorically of The New York Times this week. “This is a nuclear site.” Commenting on Russian moves to use a nuclear power plant as an artillery position, he said, “don’t search for fairness in war, especially if you fight the Russians.”
Earlier this week, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant “is becoming more perilous by the day.”
“While this war rages on, inaction is unconscionable,” he said. “If an accident occurs at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, we will not have a natural disaster to blame. We will have only ourselves to answer to.”
“The people of Zaporizhzhia and people far from Zaporizhzhia are relying on all of us to prevent war from causing a nuclear tragedy that would compound the catastrophe already befalling Ukraine and causing hunger and insecurity beyond its borders,” he continued.
Ukraine and Russia traded blame on Friday for shelling that hit and damaged one of the plant’s high-voltage power lines, according to multiple reports, though the plant continues to operate as normal.