The disputed Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has been a flashpoint for both sides in the ongoing conflict that began with Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The sprawling compound has been fought over ever since, with repeated rocket strikes — blamed by either side on the other — severing its vital connection to Ukraine’s national electricity grid.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the head of the country’s state-owned nuclear power company called on both sides to stop shelling the area around the plant to prevent a catastrophic mishap. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general has visited the facility several times since the war broke out, and he has warned that a disaster could occur if the cooling pond at the plant is damaged.
On Tuesday night, Zelenskyy again sounded the alarm, alleging that Russia had planted suspected explosives at the plant. He said the military had found “objects resembling explosives” on the roof of several of the plant’s power units. If detonated, they would not damage the reactors but could be used to “simulate an attack” at the facility.
The Russian government denied the allegation and insisted that it is taking steps to ensure the safety of Zaporizhzhia. It alleged that Kyiv’s military and civilian allies are trying to discredit Russia by spreading false reports. “If the information is true that a group of Ukrainian soldiers and partisans has attempted to detonate explosive devices at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, then it is a terrorist act,” a statement released by the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
Both sides in the conflict have reason to keep the plant operational, and it is unlikely that they will be able to reach an agreement on how to manage the risks involved. The IAEA’s Grossi has urged both sides to establish a safe zone around the plant and remove heavy weapons from the area, but neither seems willing to do so.
Zaporizhzhia, now under Russian control, is situated on the Dnieper River and is part of southeast Ukraine. It is home to the world’s second-largest atomic reactor, built in the 1980s and operated by Ukraine. The sprawling complex is about 200 kilometers from the frontline in eastern Ukraine, but it has been subjected to regular shelling and sporadic attacks by Ukrainian and Russian troops. It is also prone to flooding, disrupting power supplies and making the facility vulnerable to attack. The city also has a large port that handles most of Ukraine’s exports and imports. Its location, close to the border with Russia, makes it a key regional transportation hub.