Concerns over Zaporizhzhia continue to grow, with Ukraine accusing Russia of firing on areas just across the river and Russia claiming that Ukrainian shelling hit a building where nuclear fuel was stored.
Ukraine and Russia have traded fresh accusations of shelling at and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, with its operator warning of a radioactive leak risk at the atomic facility.
The operator, Energoatom, said on Saturday that Russian troops "repeatedly shelled" the plant — Europe's largest — over the past day.
Russia's defence ministry issued a counter-claim that Ukraine's troops were responsible for a salvo of 17 shells landing on the site.
"As a result of periodic shelling, the infrastructure of the station has been damaged, there are risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and the fire hazard is high," Energoatom posted on Telegram.
The agency said as of Saturday midday, the plant in southern Ukraine "operates with the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards".
The governor of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, Valentyn Reznichenko, said Grad missiles and artillery shells hit the cities of Nikopol and Marganets, each located about 10 kilometres (6 miles) and across the Dnipro River from the plant.
But Russia's defence ministry said Ukrainian forces "shelled the territory of the station three times" from the town of Marganets.
In a communique, the ministry accused Kiev of "nuclear terrorism" and said shells landed near areas storing fresh nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. Nevertheless, radiation levels at the plant "remain normal", the ministry added.
Ukraine distributes iodine tablets to people who live near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant pic.twitter.com/1BnLYtEHZi— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) August 27, 2022
Iodine tablets distributed
Authorities were distributing iodine tablets to residents who live near the plant in case of radiation exposure, which can cause health problems depending on the amount a person absorbs.
Much of the concern centres on the cooling systems for the nuclear reactors of the plant located in the city of Energodar.
The systems require power to run, and the plant was temporarily knocked offline on Thursday because of what officials said was fire damage to a transmission line. A cooling system failure could cause a nuclear meltdown.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been occupied by Russian troops since the opening of Russia's attack, while Ukrainian workers have kept it running.
Ukraine has claimed Russia is using the power plant as a shield by storing weapons there and launching attacks from around it.
Moscow, for its part, accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing on the nuclear complex.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is urging for a mission to the plant "as soon as possible to help stabilise the nuclear safety and security situation there".
Agency head Rafael Mariano Grossi has said he wants to visit the site within days, warning of potential disaster.
Ukraine energy minister adviser Lana Zerkal said an IAEA inspection "is planned for the next week".
But Zerkal told Ukraine's Radio NV late on Thursday she was sceptical the mission would go ahead, despite Moscow's formal agreement, as "they are artificially creating all the conditions so that the mission will not reach the site".
Britain's defence ministry said satellite imagery showed an increased presence of Russian troops at the power plant with armoured personnel carriers deployed within 60 metres of one reactor.
Kiev suspects Moscow intends to divert power from the Zaporizhzhia plant to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russian troops in 2014. Washington has warned against any such move.