Ukraine nuclear plant loses power line as Moscow, West energy row escalates

AFP

A nuclear power plant on the front line of the Ukraine war again lost external power, UN inspectors said, fuelling fears of disaster while Moscow kept its main gas pipeline to Germany shut to hurt economies of Kyiv's friends in the West.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe's largest, had its last remaining main external power line cut off, although a reserve line continued supplying electricity to the grid, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. 

Only one of the station's six reactors remained in operation, the agency said in a statement.

The plant, seized by Russian troops shortly after their February 24 invasion, has become a focal point of the conflict, with each side blaming the other for nearby shelling.

A standoff over Russian gas and oil exports ramped up last week as Moscow vowed to keep its main gas pipeline to Germany shuttered and G7 countries announced a planned price cap on Russian oil exports.

The energy fight is a fallout from President Vladimir Putin's six-month invasion of Ukraine, underscoring the deep rift between Moscow and Western nations as Europe steels itself for the cold months ahead.

"Russia is preparing a decisive energy blow on all Europeans for this winter," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on Saturday, citing the Nord Stream 1 pipeline's continued closure.

Zelenskiy has blamed Russian shelling for an August 25 cutoff, the first Zaporizhzhia was severed from the national grid, which narrowly avoided a radiation leak. That shutdown prompted power cuts across Ukraine, although emergency generators kicked in for vital cooling processes.

Moscow has cited Western sanctions and technical issues for energy disruptions, while European countries have accused Russia of weaponising supplies as part of its military invasion.

NUCLEAR CONCERNS

Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations about attacks on the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is still operated by Ukrainian staff.

An IAEA mission toured the plant on Thursday and some experts have remained there pending the release of a report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog in coming days. 

The remaining inspectors noted one reactor was still producing electricity "for cooling and other essential safety functions at the site and for households, factories and others through the grid," the IAEA said on Saturday.

The plant said in a statement the fifth reactor was switched off "as a result of constant shelling by Russian occupation forces" and that there was "insufficient capacity from the last reserve line to operate two reactors."

Deteriorating conditions amid the shelling have prompted fears of a radiation disaster that the International Red Cross has said would cause a major humanitarian crisis. 

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of storing heavy weapons at the site to discourage Ukraine from firing on it. Russia, which denies the presence of any such weapons there, has resisted international calls to relocate troops and demilitarise the area.

Russia's defence ministry on Saturday accused Ukrainian forces of mounting a failed attempt to capture the plant. Reuters could not verify the report. 

Turkey on Saturday also offered to facilitate the situation. 

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