Attacks on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant could spell “disaster” for much of the continent, with Ukraine and Russia blaming each other for the shelling.
Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was taken shortly after Moscow launched its invasion on February 24 and has been occupied by Russian troops since March.
Ukrainian staff continue to operate the plant, but it is under Russian control.
On Thursday the plant was shelled and at least 10 hits were reported on the administrative office and fire station, leading to several radiation sensors being damaged and small fire breaking out on some nearby grass.
Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom, also said radioactive substances were located near the strikes.
Bombardment near the plant also occurred last week, raising the spectre of a nuclear catastrophe in a country which suffered the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Russia and Ukraine have both accused each other for the attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the international community to “react immediately” to force Russian forces to leave the Zaporizhzhia plant.
“The entire world must react immediately to chase out the occupiers from Zaporizhzhia,” Mr Zelensky said in his daily video address.
“Only the Russians’ full withdrawal … would guarantee nuclear safety for all of Europe,” he added, condemning “Russian nuclear blackmail”.
He warned that “Russia may provoke the world’s worst nuclear accident … bigger than Chernobyl”.
In response, Russian officials issued a statement accusing Ukraine of carrying out the shelling, claiming Ukrainian troops were using multiple-launch rocket systems and heavy artillery.
As both sides attempt to place blame on the other, UN Secretary General António Guterres has warned continued fighting around the plant could “lead to disaster”.
“Urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarisation to ensure the safety of the area,” General Guterres said ahead of a UN Security Council crisis meeting in New York City.
The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said they must be allowed to inspect Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
“This is a serious hour, a grave hour and the IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission to Zaporizhzhia as soon as possible,” Rafael Grossi told the Security Council during the emergency meeting.
The US State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security, Bonnie Jenkins, supported the idea of an IAEA mission to Ukraine.
“This visit cannot wait any longer,” she told the Council, adding that the only way to ensure nuclear safety would be for Moscow to end its war.
“The United States calls for the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine’s territory,” Ms Jenkins said.
“This would allow for Ukraine to restore the impeccable safety, security, and safeguards performance it upheld for decades at the facility.”
However, Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya put the blame for the violence around Zaporizhzhia squarely on Ukrainian forces.
“We call on states that support the Kyiv regime to bring their proxies into check to compel them to immediately and once and for all stop attacks on Zaporizhzhia nuclear power to ensure the safe conditions for the conduct of the IAEA mission,” he told the Council.
“This is the only way to prevent a major radioactive catastrophe on the European continent, the risk of which is now more real than ever.
“If Ukrainian Armed Forces attacks continue, this could take place at any time.”
– with AFP