(CNN) — Ukrainian officials and international experts have been warning for months about the risk posed by the fighting to a nuclear power plant on the banks of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine. Earlier this week, the world nuclear watchdog said the situation was becoming increasingly dangerous.
Then on Friday, explosions erupted at the Zaporizhia nuclear power complex, the largest of its kind in Europe, reigniting fears of a potential disaster.
Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of bombing the plant, which was seized by Russian forces in early March, along with the city of Enerhodar, where the complex is located.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Moscow for the attack, calling the attacks a “brazen crime” and an “act of terror.”
“Today, the occupiers created another extremely risky situation for everyone in Europe,” he said in his late-night speech on Friday.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied the claim, saying the Ukrainians had carried out three artillery attacks on the plant and the surrounding area. The ministry added that the generating capacity of one unit at the plant was reduced and the power supply of another was cut off.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power operator Energoatom has accused Russian forces of attacking the Zaporizhia plant and using the complex as a staging ground to attack nearby targets, including many in the occupied city of Enerhodar and the nearby Russian-controlled city of Nikopol. Ukraine.
When fierce fighting first broke out near the facility in the early days of the war, it raised fears of a nuclear incident and drew condemnation from the international community.
Russian troops forced their managers to work “at gunpoint” after seizing the plant on March 5, according to Ukrainian nuclear officials. A week later, the Kremlin sent officials and technicians from Russia’s state nuclear agency to help carry out repairs and manage the facility.
Ukrainian and Russian personnel have been working together ever since, and communication with the outside world has been intermittent.
Energoatom said on Friday that Russian shelling had hit in and around the nuclear complex and damaged a water intake facility, cutting off power and water to much of Enerhodar.
“Three hits were recorded directly at the station site,” the Ukrainian agency said, stating that one was “near one of the power units where the nuclear reactor is located.”
CNN was unable to verify damage claims at the plant, which occupies a large site. Much of the recent Russian fire in the area originated near the plant and it is unclear whether parts of the nuclear facility were accidentally hit.
Energoatom said on Saturday that the plant was operational and Ukrainian staff at the station were continuing to work to ensure radiation safety.
Ukrainian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the incident.
Zaporizhia plant ‘out of control’
The exact danger posed by the explosions at and around the Zaporizhia nuclear plant remains unclear.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that the situation at the plant was “completely out of control.”
“All the principles of nuclear security have been violated,” he said, calling on Russia and Ukraine to allow experts to visit the site. “The stakes are extremely serious and extremely serious and dangerous.”
Other officials have been more measured, pointing to the fact that recent nuclear power facilities are designed to withstand terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
Several Western and Ukrainian officials believe that Russia is now using the giant nuclear facility as a fortress to protect its troops and stage attacks, because they assume that Kyiv will not retaliate and risk a crisis.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow on Monday of using the plant to protect its forces, and Ukraine warned that bombing the complex could be disastrous.
“The possible consequences of hitting a working reactor are equivalent to using an atomic bomb,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday. On twitter.
The UK has said that actions at the complex have undermined the safety of the plant’s operations.
“Russian forces have likely used the wider area of the facility, in particular the adjacent town of Enerhodar, to rest their forces, using the protected status of the nuclear power plant to reduce the risk of overnight Ukrainian attacks for their equipment and personnel,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on Friday. On twitter.
The Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said in late July that Russian forces had been observed using heavy weapons near the plant because “they know very well that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will not respond to these attacks, as they can damage the nuclear power plant.
Joshua Berlinger, Lauren Kent, Yulia Kesaieva and CNN’s Petro Zadorozhnny contributed to this report.