A fire broke out early Friday at a complex in southern Ukraine housing Europe’s largest nuclear power plant after Russian troops fired on the area, and the Russian military later took control of the site, Ukrainian officials said.
Security camera footage verified by The New York Times showed a burning building inside the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex near a line of military vehicles. The videos appeared to show people in the vehicles shooting at power plant buildings. Ukraine’s state emergency service later said the fire was extinguished after 6 a.m.
The fire did not affect essential plant equipment, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Twitterciting his communication with the Ukrainian government.
About an hour after dawn, Ukraine’s Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate said in a statement that Russian military forces now occupied the complex. He said all power units at the site remained intact and no changes in radiation levels were observed.
The fire started after a Russian attack on a training building outside the factory perimeter, according to a statement from Ukraine’s state emergency service. A spokesman for the nuclear power plant, Andriy Tuz, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying on Ukrainian television that shells set fire to one of the plant’s six reactors which was being renovated and did not work.
Ukraine’s nuclear inspectorate later said in its statement that one unit of the six units was working, another was “out of order”, two were being cooled down and two others had been disconnected from the grid.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had accused the Russian military of deliberately attacking the complex and said an explosion there would have been “the end for everyone, the end of Europe”.
“Only immediate actions from Europe could stop the Russian military,” he added.
President Biden spoke with Mr. Zelensky about the fire and joined him in urging Russia to “cease its military activities in the region and allow firefighters and emergency responders access to the site,” the White House said. Local reports later said emergency teams had gained access.
Mr. Biden’s energy secretary, Jennifer M. Granholm, said on Twitter that the United States had not detected high levels of radiation in the region, echoing an earlier assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency. “The plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and the reactors are shut down safely,” she said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will request an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council over the fire at the complex, according to his office.
Before the fire was reported by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement that “a large number of Russian tanks and infantry “had entered Enerhodar, a town near the factory. Chief Executive Rafael Mariano Grossi said troops were “heading straight” to the reactor site.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex, on the Dnieper about 160 km north of Crimea, is the largest in Europe. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, its six reactors produce a total of 6,000 megawatts of electricity.
By comparison, the Chernobyl plant in northern Ukraine produced 3,800 megawatts, about a third less. (One megawatt, one million watts, is enough to light 10,000 hundred-watt bulbs.) All four reactors at the Chernobyl complex were shut down after one suffered a catastrophic fire and meltdown in 1986 .
Reactor cores are filled with highly radioactive fuel. But an added hazard at the Zaporizhzhia site is the many acres of open water ponds behind the complex where spent fuel rods have been cooled for years. Experts fear that errant shells or missiles that strike such sites could trigger radiological disasters.
For days, social media reports detailed how the residents of Enerhodar erected a giant barrier of tires, vehicles, and metal barricades in an attempt to block a Russian advance into the city and the reactor site. Christoph Koettl, Visual Investigator for The New York Times, noted on twitter that the barricades were so big that they could be seen from outer space by orbiting satellites.
Since last Sunday, three days after the start of the invasion, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator began reporting an unusual disconnection rate: six of the country’s 15 reactors were offline. On Tuesday, the Zaporizhzhia facility was the site with the most offline reactors.
John Youn, Marc Santora and Nathan Willis contributed report.