Ukraine’s Zelenskiy says ‘serious threat’ remains at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on Saturday that a “serious threat” remained at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and said Russia was “technically ready” to provoke a localized explosion at the facility.

Zelenskiy cited Ukrainian intelligence as the source of his information.

“There is a serious threat because Russia is technically ready to provoke a local explosion at the station, which could lead to a (radiation) release,” Zelenskiy told a news conference alongside visiting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

He gave no further details. Ukrainian military intelligence has previously said Russian troops had mined the plant.

Zelenskiy called for greater international attention to the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest civil nuclear facility, and urged sanctions on Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom.

Zelenskiy later held a meeting of the top military command and nuclear power officials at another of Ukraine’s five nuclear plants, in Rivne, in the northwest of the country.

“The key issues discussed were the security of our northern regions and our measures to strengthen them,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address, standing in front of the Rivne plant.

Zelenkiy’s trip to Rivne was a rare journey for the Ukraine leader to an area relatively far from the fighting. But it is near the border with Belarus, where Russia’s Wagner mercenaries have a deal to go after last week’s aborted uprising. Their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was offered the option of resettling in Belarus, on Ukraine’s northern border.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power authority, said on Friday it had conducted two days of exercises simulating the effects of an attack on the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, issued a statement describing the Ukrainian allegations as “simply preposterous”. Russia has dismissed any suggestion it plans to attack or sabotage the Zaporizhzhia plant. Each side accuses the other of shelling near the facility.

Sanchez said his visit to the Ukrainian capital was meant to underscore his support for Ukraine as Spain kicks off the six-month rotating EU presidency. Spain would provide an additional 55 million euro ($60 million) financial package for Ukraine to help the economy and small businesses, he said.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, located near the city of Enerhodar in southern Ukraine, has been occupied by Russia since shortly after Moscow’s invasion in February 2022.

Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, when clouds of radioactive material spread across much of Europe after an explosion and fire at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant.

(Reporting by Olena Harmash; Editing by Tom Balmforth, David Holmes, Ron Popeski and David Gregorio)