Powerful explosions rocked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine this weekend, renewing concerns that fighting so close to the facility could cause a nuclear accident.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, said that whoever was responsible for the attacks was “playing with fire,” reiterating a warning he made in September.
IAEA experts at the plant said that more than a dozen blasts were heard within a short period of time Sunday morning local time, the nuclear watchdog said in a statement. Shelling was observed both near and at the site of the facility. IAEA officials could even see some explosions from their windows, the nuclear watchdog said.
“Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately,” Grossi added.
Based on information provided by the plant management, the IAEA team said there had been damage to some buildings, systems and equipment at the plant’s site, “but none of them so far critical for nuclear safety and security,” the agency said. There were no reports of casualties.
Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for the attacks.
Ukraine’s national nuclear power company Energoatom said it appeared that Russian forces were trying to hinder the country’s ability to provide electricity to its citizens. The Kremlin has, in recent weeks, carried out a campaign of bombings and airstrikes on Ukrainian infrastructure designed to cripple Kyiv’s ability to provide heat to its residents as winter approaches.
The Russian Defense Ministry alleged that the blasts at Zaporizhzhia were the result of artillery fired by the Ukrainian military.
Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russian forces of storing heavy weaponry inside the complex and using it as cover to launch attacks, knowing that Ukraine can’t return fire without risking hitting one of the plant’s reactors.
CNN is unable to verify the claims by Energoatom or the Russian government.
Grossi and the IAEA have repeatedly called for both sides to implement a nuclear safety and security zone around Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Grossi has taken part in “intense consultations with Ukraine and Russia about establishing such a zone, but so far without an agreement,” the IAEA said.
Skirmishes near Zaporizhzhia have taken place intermittently since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February and seized the plant days later. Intense shelling near the complex this summer sparked concerns of a nuclear accident, prompting the IAEA to send a team there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in October federalizing the plant which is located about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the city and sits in Russian occupied territory along the Dnipro River. The move sparked concerns over the fate of the Ukrainian technicians who have operated the plant since its occupation by Russian forces.
The blasts on Saturday and Sunday ended what the IAEA said was “a relative period of calm.”
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