Real-time updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine

A general view shows the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, located in the Russian-controlled zone of Energodar, as seen from Nikopol on April 27, 2022.
A general view shows the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, located in the Russian-controlled zone of Energodar, as seen from Nikopol on April 27, 2022. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Concerns have risen after the British Ministry of Defense repeated accusations by the Ukrainian military that Russian forces are using the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Ukraine to shell military positions across the Dnieper, but Western officials have downplayed the danger.

Russian forces are likely operating in areas adjacent to the power plant and have used artillery units based in these areas to shell Ukrainian territory on the western bank of the Dnieper,” the UK MoD said in a statement on the situation in Ukraine.
“Russian forces likely used the wider area of ​​the site, in particular the nearby city of Energodar, for recreation of their forces, using the protected status of the nuclear power plant to reduce the risk to their equipment and personnel from nightly Ukrainian attacks.”

The Defense Ministry’s assessment echoes accusations by the mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Energodar, Dmitry Orlov, who said in late July that Russia was using the plant as a fortress. “They (Russian forces) know very well that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will not respond to these attacks, as they could damage the nuclear power plant,” Orlov told Ukrainian television channel Espreso TV.

Mixed picture: On Thursday, Western officials downplayed the possibility of heavy fighting in and around the nuclear power plant.

“Russia can use this area as a safe zone from which defensive operations can be carried out. Ukraine will consider very carefully how to avoid serious risks on the site,” officials said.

“The area of ​​the nuclear power plant site itself is too small to be very significant in terms of moving forward. Ukraine can always surround or bypass it,” the officials added. “It’s a consideration and that people should be careful when planning, but it won’t stop moving forward in any way.”

The Defense Department’s concern came after International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the situation at the nuclear power plant was “completely out of control.”

Grossi said he was trying to assemble a mission, backed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, to visit the plant, but explained that it was actually “very difficult” because “it requires understanding and cooperation.” Ukrainians and the Russians who occupied it.

Some background: Russia seized the plant, which is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, in the early days of the war on March 5. A week later, on March 12, a group of officials and technicians from Russia’s state agency for atomic energy, Rosatom, arrived on site. to help run the plant and help with repairs, the Ukrainian nuclear energy agency Energoatom said.

Since then, the situation at the plant has remained difficult, with Ukrainian and Russian employees working side by side. Communication between the station and the IAEA was intermittent.

According to the IAEA, military operations in the area with the announced Ukrainian counter-offensive on Kherson have made the situation even more unstable.

While Western officials understand some of the IAEA’s concerns, they “do not think [the situation] as horrific as it is inevitably depicted in the media at the moment.”

The officials went on to explain that factories like Zaporozhye are being built with many safety measures in place. “So please don’t think that we are looking at Chernobyl as a situation, it is not,” the officials said. “We think overall the circumstances of this place are still in order.”

CNN has reached out to Rosatom for comment but has yet to receive a response.