Ukraine-Russia: 'Extremely reckless' for Russia to fire shells close to nuclear plant, UK scientists say

Russian shelling of a nuclear power plant in Ukraine has been labelled “extremely reckless” by UK scientists, after the Ukrainian president warned an explosion could be “the end of Europe”.

A fire broke out at the Zaporizhzhia plant after it was shelled overnight by Russian troops.

The plant, which is the largest nuclear power station in Europe, is now under Russian control.

World leaders have condemned Russia’s actions, and UK scientists warned of the risks of attacking the plant.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as he informs the press about the situation of nuclear powerplants in Ukraine during a special press conference at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria on March 4, 2022. Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the fire had now been extinguished and radiation monitoring systems at the site were functioning. No radioactive material has been released.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the IAEA, said he remained “extremely concerned” about the situation at Zaporizhzhia.

Robin Grimes, professor of materials physics at Imperial College London, said while nuclear reactors were designed to withstand damage, including from earthquakes, they were not designed to cope with artillery shelling.

While it is unlikely an impact would produce a disaster on the scale of Chernobyl, this is not impossible, he said.

Prof Grimes said even when reactors are turned off, it is vital that coolant continues to be circulated, and if this were lost there would be massive damage akin to what happened in Fukushima.

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“It is therefore staggering and reckless to the extreme that shells have been fired close to a nuclear plant, let alone targeting buildings within the plant,” he said.

"Even if they were not aiming for the nuclear plant, artillery is notoriously inaccurate in a time of war.”

Tom Scott, professor in materials at Bristol University, said the shelling was “very worrying”.

However, he added he was “not overly concerned” that accidental damage would cause a major nuclear incident.

"It would be more concerning if the reactors were being deliberately targeted to induce a nuclear incident,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the "reckless" attack could "directly threaten the safety of all of Europe".

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