Ukraine warns of ‘nuclear terrorism’ after strike near factory

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A Russian missile created a crater near a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Monday, damaging nearby industrial equipment but not reaching its three reactors. The Ukrainian authorities denounced this decision as an act of “nuclear terrorism”.

The missile struck within 300 yards (328 yards) of reactors at the South Ukraine nuclear power plant near the city of Yuzhnoukrainsk in Mykolaiv province, leaving a 2-meter (6 1/2ft) hole deep and 4 meters (13 feet) wide, according to Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom.

The reactors were operating normally and no employees were injured, he said. But the proximity of the strike has rekindled fears that Russia’s nearly 7-month-long war in Ukraine could produce a radioactive disaster.

This nuclear power plant is the second largest in Ukraine after the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been the target of repeated shootings.

In this photo provided by the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, a crater left by a Russian rocket is seen 300 meters from the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant in the background near Yuzhnoukrainsk in the region of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 1, 2019. 19, 2022. (South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant Press Office via AP)

In this photo provided by the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, a crater left by a Russian rocket is seen 300 meters from the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant in the background near Yuzhnoukrainsk in the region of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 1, 2019. 19, 2022. (South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant Press Office via AP)
(South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant Press Office via AP)

RUSSIAN FORCES TARGETING CIVILIAN INFRASTRUCTURE AS UKRAINE CONTINUES COUNTEROFFENSIVE, UK SAYS

Following recent battlefield setbacks, Russian President Vladimir Putin last week threatened to step up Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. Throughout the war, Russia has targeted Ukraine’s power generation and transmission equipment, causing blackouts and endangering the safety systems of the country’s nuclear power plants.

The industrial complex that includes the South Ukraine plant is located along the Southern Bug River, approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles) south of the capital, Kyiv. The attack also caused the temporary shutdown of a nearby hydroelectric plant, shattered more than 100 windows in the complex and cut three power lines, Ukrainian authorities said.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry released a black-and-white video showing two large balls of fire erupting one after another in the dark, followed by showers of incandescent sparks, at 19 minutes past midnight. The ministry and Energoatom called the strike “nuclear terrorism”.

The Russian Defense Ministry and the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, did not immediately comment on the attack.

Russian forces have occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, since the start of the invasion. The bombings cut the plant’s transmission lines, forcing operators to shut down its six reactors to avoid a radioactive disaster. Russia and Ukraine swapped responsibility for the strikes.

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the Pivdennukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant, also known as the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, in Ukraine's southern Mykolaiv region on May 31, 2022. A Russian missile strike hit a facility near the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Monday, September 1.  on December 19, 2022, causing no damage to its reactors but damaging other industrial equipment in what the country's atomic energy operator denounced as an act of "nuclear terrorism" (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the Pivdennukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant, also known as the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, in Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv region on May 31, 2022. A Russian missile strike hit a facility near the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Monday, September 1. On December 19, 2022, causing no damage to its reactors but damaging other industrial equipment in what the country’s atomic energy operator denounced as an act of “nuclear terrorism”. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
(Planet Labs PBC via AP)

The IAEA, which has posted monitors at the Zaporizhzhia plant, said a main transmission line was reconnected on Friday, providing the electricity it needs to cool its reactors.

But the mayor of Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia factory is located, reported renewed Russian shelling on Monday in the city’s industrial zone.

While warning Friday of a possible rise in power of the strikes, Putin called for his strength had so far acted with restraint but warned “if the situation evolves in this way, our response will be more serious”.

“Just recently, the Russian armed forces launched some hard-hitting strikes,” he said. “Let’s consider this as warning strikes.”

The latest Russian bombardment has killed at least eight civilians and injured 22 others, the Ukrainian presidency announced on Monday. The governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region, which is now largely in Ukrainian hands, said Russian shelling killed four medical workers trying to evacuate patients from a psychiatric hospital and injured two patients.

The mayor of the Russian-occupied eastern city of Donetsk, meanwhile, said shelling by Ukrainian forces killed 13 civilians and injured eight.

Patricia Lewis, director of international security research at the Chatham House think tank in London, said the attacks on the Zaporizhzhia power plant and Monday’s strike at the south Ukraine power plant indicated that the Russian military was trying to take Ukraine’s nuclear power plants offline before winter.

“It’s a very, very dangerous and illegal act to target a nuclear power plant,” Lewis told The Associated Press. “Only the generals will know the intent, but there is clearly a pattern.”

“What they seem to do every time is try to cut the power to the reactor,” she said. “It’s a very clumsy way to do it, because how accurate are these missiles?”

Electricity is needed to run the pumps that circulate cooling water to the reactors, preventing overheating and – in the worst case – a fusion of nuclear fuel generating radiation.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY ATTRACTS DICTATORS, PRESIDENTS AS WAR HITS EUROPE AND THREATENS ASIA – BUT CLIMATE REMAINS AT HEART

Other recent Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure have targeted power plants in the north and a dam in the south. They came in response to a massive Ukrainian counterattack in the east of the country that reclaimed Russian-occupied territory in the Kharkiv region.

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Analysts have noted that beyond reclaiming the territory, challenges remain to retain it. In a video address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said cryptically of the effort, “I cannot reveal all the details, but thanks to the Ukrainian Security Service, we are now confident that the occupiers will have no foothold on Ukrainian soil.”

Ukraine’s successes in Kharkiv — Russia’s biggest defeat since its forces were pushed back from around Kyiv at the start of the invasion — have fueled scant public criticism in Russia and added military and diplomatic pressure on Putin. Nationalist Kremlin critics have questioned why Moscow failed to plunge Ukraine into darkness by striking all of its major nuclear power plants.

In other developments:

– A governor said Ukraine had taken over the village of Bilogorivka in the Russian-occupied eastern Lugansk region. Russia did not recognize the claim.

– Russian-installed leaders in Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson regions reiterated calls on Monday for referendums to formally bind their regions to Russia. These officials have previously discussed such plans, but referendums have been repeatedly delayed, possibly due to insufficient popular support.

— The Supreme Court of the Russian-occupied Luhansk region on Monday convicted a former Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe interpreter and another unspecified person of high treason. Both were sentenced to 13 years in prison.

—The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania closed their borders Monday to most Russian citizens in response to Russia’s domestic support for the war in Ukraine. Poland will join the ban on September 1. 26.

– Iconic singer Alla Pugacheva has become the most prominent Russian celebrity to criticize the war, describing Russia in an Instagram post on Sunday as “an outcast” and saying his soldiers were dying for “illusory purposes”. Valery Fadeyev, head of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council, accused Pugacheva of speaking falsely.

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AP reporter John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, contributed.