By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Security footage shows fire at at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Enerhodar
Update March 4, 2022: The fire has been extinguished and the containment vessel has not been breached, according to Ukrainian authorities.
March 3, 2022 (San Diego) – "As a result of continuous enemy shelling of buildings and units of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire," Dmytro Orlov, mayor of Enerhodar, a city in southern Ukraine, posted tonight on hisTelegram channel. The facility contains six nuclear reactors.
The nuclear facility is the site where Ukrainian citizens have gathered in recent days forming a human shield in an effort to prevent Russian troops from capturing the nuclear plant.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba posted on Twitter that the Russian army was "firing from all sides" on the nuclear facility. "Fire has already broke out ... Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!" he wrote.
Plant spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that shells were falling directly on the Zaporizhzhia plant and had set fire to one of the facility’s six reactors. That reactor is under renovation and not operating, but there is nuclear fuel inside, he said, USA Today reports.
Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine tweeted after the shelling that if Zaporizhzhia blows up, it will be 10 times worse than the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Newsweek reports.
The Chernobyl facility, site of a nuclear meltdown that contaminated much of Europe with radioactive fallout, was captured by Russian forces earlier this week.
The Zaporizhzhia facility is reportedly fortified much stronger than Chernobyl, built to withstand a plane crash.
US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm has tweeted that she spoke to Ukraine’s energy minister about the fire at the nuclear facility and has decided to activate the US Nuclear Incident Response Team, the BBC reports.
"Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease," said Granholm, who oversees the US nuclear arsenal. But she added, "The plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down."
The International Atomic Energy Commission has indicated that no increased radiation levels have been detected as of tonight, but that could change as shelling continues.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been in communication with several European leaders and spoke with President Joe Biden tonight, who joined with other leaders and the Atomic Energy Commission in urging Russia to stop the shelling.
Zelensky posted video online in which he implores, "Europeans, wake up please. Tell your politicians that Russian forces are shooting at the nuclear plant in Ukraine," he begged, calling on NATO to establish a no-fly zone over the Ukraine. He added, "Russian propaganda has warned in the past that it would cover the world in nuclear ash. Now this isn’t just a warning, this is real."
It is unclear what Russian President Vladimir's motive in targeting the nuclear facility was, though experts have speculated the strike may have been intended to provoke terror or to knock out power for the region.