Russia suspended operations at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

FILE PHOTO: A convoy carrying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert mission, escorted by the Russian military, arrives at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. March 29, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko//File photo (ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/)

Operations at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant will be suspended in case of “provocations” by Ukrainian forcesthe state news agency said on Monday TASSciting the Moscow-installed governor of the Russian-controlled part of the surrounding region.

Russia captured the plant in the early days of its invasion of Ukraine last year.

Ukraine is expected to start a counteroffensive soon long-awaited to recapture Russian-controlled territory, including potentially in the Zaporizhzhia region, and Russian authorities have begun evacuating people.

“We have seen that the level (of the water in the nearby Kakhovka reservoir) rises to 17.08 (meters). We realize that this is manipulation. Nuclear reactors have been suspended,” Yevgeny Balitsky was quoted as saying by TASSwho did not provide further details.

The head of the UN nuclear power watchdog, Rafael Grossi, said earlier that the six reactors at Europe’s largest nuclear power facility are already in a “cold shutdown”, meaning they are not producing electricity, but they are still loaded with nuclear material.

FILE - A Russian serviceman guards an area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Russian-controlled territory in southeastern Ukraine on May 1, 2022. (AP Photo/File)
FILE – A Russian soldier guards an area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, in Russian-controlled territory, in southeastern Ukraine, on May 1, 2022 (AP Photo/File) (Uncredited/)

Grossi warned on Saturday that the situation around the plant had become “potentially dangerous” as Moscow-based officials began evacuating people from nearby areas.

Some 3,000 people have been evacuated from villages near the front line, TASS quoted Balitsky as saying on Monday, including around 1,000 minors.

Front line evacuations around the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant provoked safety warnings by the body of UN nuclear control on Saturday, as a series of recent attacks raise predictions of an imminent spring counteroffensive.

Moscow has ordered families with children and the elderly to temporarily evacuate a number of Russian-controlled areas in southern Ukraine, including enerhodarthe city ​​near the Europe’s largest nuclear power plantalleging the intensification of shelling by kyiv.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which Grossi heads, earlier issued warnings about safety at the plant after bombings caused temporary power cuts.

In March, the IAEA warned that the plant was running on diesel generators to keep vital cooling systems running, after power lines were damaged.

Russian forces control around 70% of the territory of Zaporizhzhyaneighboring the province of Kherson, in whose regional capital, controlled by Ukrainian forces, a curfew is in force until 0300 GMT on Monday.

The withdrawal order has caused “a crazed panic and queues no less crazy” at the entrance checkpoint to the Crimea annexed to Russia, declared Ivan FedorovMayor of Melitopolin Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

With buses taking people every 20 to 30 minutes, he said the stations have run out of gas.

“The partial evacuation that they announced will too fastand there is a possibility that they are preparing for provocations and (for that reason) targeting civilians,” Fedorov wrote on Telegram.

(With information from Reuters)

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