Russia Names Three Countries in Nuclear Danger Over Shelling of Plant

As tensions between Ukraine and Russia grow over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Russia's Defense Ministry said on Thursday that the facility could be shut down if Ukrainian forces continue targeting it and named three countries in danger from radioactive fallout in the event of an incident at the plant.

The Zaporizhzhia plant—the largest in Europe—has been under occupation since March, when it was captured by Russian troops, though it is still run by Ukrainian technicians. There has been concern over the fate of the power plant stuck in the middle of a conflict and the risks it could pose to the entire European continent.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, in southeastern Ukraine on a bank of the Dnieper River, has been the target of several military strikes since the end of July and both Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other's forces of shelling the facility.

During Thursday's briefing, the head of Russia's radiation, chemical and biological defense forces Igor Kirillov said Zaporizhzhia's back-up support systems had been damaged as a result of shelling, allegedly from Ukrainian troops.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
Ukrainian Emergency Ministry rescuers attend an exercise in the city of Zaporizhzhia on August 17, 2022 to prepare for a possible nuclear incident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia's Defense Ministry has warned that the impact of an accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant would be felt in Germany, Poland and Slovakia. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Kirillov went on to list the three countries which would be hit the hardest by the consequences of an accident at the plant and any subsequent spread of radioactive material: Germany, Poland and Slovakia.

While both Poland and Slovakia share a border with Ukraine, Germany and Ukraine are some 1,000 miles apart.

Newsweek has contacted the Ministries of Defense of Poland and Slovakia and Germany's Bundestag for comment.

It's not clear how the tensions over Zaporizhzhia could be de-escalated, as both Ukraine and Russia accuse the other of risking a nuclear catastrophe.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from the nuclear power plant.

"Under the cover of the plant, the occupiers are shelling nearby cities and communities," Zelensky said. "Any radiation incident at the Zaporizhzhia NPP [nuclear power plant] can affect the countries of the European Union, Turkey, Georgia and countries from more distant regions. Everything depends solely on the direction and speed of the wind."

"If Russia's actions cause a catastrophe, the consequences may also hit those who remain silent so far," he said.

Russia, on the other hand, has blamed Kyiv for the shelling of the plant. During a live broadcast on Russian state-controlled TV on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Kyiv was operating "nuclear blackmail" ahead of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' visit to Ukraine.

"Today, science has already shown us that consequences of man-made disasters, and different tragedies at nuclear facilities have no boundaries, they only have time limits. Only time can limit the spread of these consequences," said Zakharova, as reported by state news agency TASS.

In early August, the International Atomic Energy Agency called for an immediate end to any military action near the plant, saying there was a "very real risk of a nuclear disaster."

The impact of an accident at the plant could certainly be felt in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, as it is only 125 miles from Zaporizhzhia. Neighboring parts of Russia would also be in danger.

An incident at the plant would likely cause an immediate evacuation of thousands of people living in the region surrounding it and there is no way of knowing how long the impact of a radiation leak would be felt in the area.

Furthermore, depending on wind direction, different parts of Europe could be affected by a radioactive cloud emerging from Zaporizhzhia.