NBC: Why is the world so worried about Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant? Experts warn that an explosion around the plant, which is being shelled, could leak radiation across Europe.
Built by the then-Soviet Union in the 1980s, Zaporizhzhia’s six light-water reactors make it among the 10 most powerful nuclear power stations in the world.
After the invasion began Feb. 24, the Kremlin war machine took a little over a week to capture the plant at Enerhodar, a city that is around a 2-hour drive southwest of the larger Zaporizhzhia.
Russian forces’ seizure of the plant a week after the invasion began caused initial concerns when a fire erupted at the site after shelling.
That offensive marked the first time in history that war had broken out in a country with such a large and advanced nuclear power infrastructure, according to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which reports to the United Nations.
That panic renewed this week after shelling damaged several buildings and a power cable, and put one reactor offline, according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s national energy company.
The plant provides Ukraine with more than 20% of its power.
Moscow is “blackmailing the whole world with the possibility of a nuclear disaster,” according to Hryhoriy Plachkov, former head of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine.
Russia, which is occupying the plant, has traded accusations of responsibility with Ukraine, which appears to be mounting a renewed offensive in the south of the country.
It is not known how many of the plant’s 11,000 prewar staff continue to work at the site. One former employee told NBC News that it was “very scary for them to work” under Russian control, amid reports that some of them were being held hostage.