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KYIV, Ukraine — Shelling near a Russian-occupied nuclear power complex in southern Ukraine has hit the fire station tasked with extinguishing any blazes inside the sprawling facility, officials said Monday, amid ongoing concerns over nuclear safety because of fighting in the area.
Russian forces seized control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest, in March. They have since effectively turned it into a fortress and a launchpad for attacks on Ukrainian positions. In recent weeks, shells have hit the facility and the area around it — with Ukraine and Russia trading blame over who is responsible and the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog expressing alarm over the potential for a major nuclear accident.
On Monday, the Ukrainian company that oversees the nation’s nuclear power plants said that Russian forces had in the past week targeted a fire station outside of the plant that is responsible for extinguishing fires at the facility in the event of an emergency. That poses “a serious risk to the safe operation of the plant,” the company, Energoatom, said in a statement.
“There are still risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering radioactive substances, and the risk of fire is high,” the statement added, saying that three of the radiation monitoring sensors around the plant have also been damaged by recent shelling.
It was impossible to independently evaluate the assessment. Monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, have not been allowed to visit to inspect the facility since it was seized by Russian forces.
The United States and the European Union have called for the creation of a demilitarized zone around the plant. The fighting has sent thousands of residents in the area fleeing.
While the plant is occupied by Russian forces, it is run by Ukrainian engineers. Energoatom said the engineers were continuing to work to “ensure nuclear and radiation safety, as well as eliminate the consequences of the damage” caused by the shelling, which has shown no sign of letting up.
On Monday afternoon Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of the nearby town of Enerhodar, warned residents to stay indoors.
“Explosions are heard in Enerhodar,” he wrote on Telegram. “Be extremely careful and leave the streets!”