Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency alleged Friday that Russian forces were preparing a “terrorist attack” at the captured Chernobyl nuclear power plant in order to pin a potential disaster on Kyiv’s forces.
“According to the available information – Vladimir Putin ordered the preparation of a terrorist attack at the Chernobyl nuclear station,” the defense ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate said in a Facebook post. “The creation of a technological catastrophe is planned … the responsibility for which the occupiers will try to translate to Ukraine.”
“At the moment, the CAEC [Chernobyl] is completely disconnected from the monitoring systems of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” the post continued. “The station has been disrupted. The resource of existing diesel generators is calculated for 48 hours of security systems to support.”
Russian forces seized control of the disused power plant on Feb. 24, the first day of Moscow’s invasion.
At the time, presidential adviser Myhailo Podolyak warned that it was “impossible” to say Chernobyl is safe.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”
The Chernobyl power plant was the site of a deadly meltdown in April 1986, which forced the evacuation of roughly 50,000 people, an event dramatized in an acclaimed 2019 HBO mini-series.
The plant, which is in the process of being decommissioned, is located approximately 80 miles north of Kyiv and approximately 10 miles from the border with Russia.
After Russian troops seized the site, radiation levels near the power plant spiked due to a disturbance in the contaminated soil by “heavy military machinery” and increased air pollution.
The control levels of gamma radiation in the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant “were exceeded,” the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine said in a statement at the time, noting that the condition of the nuclear facilities remained unchanged.
Concerns over increased radiation levels grew again this week after Russian troops cut off electricity to the plant. Without electricity, the plant is unable to cool radioactive fuel, making radiation leaks likely.
“Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chornobyl NPP,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted on Wednesday. “After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent.’’
While the plant is not actively used, it still requires the attention of more than 2,000 employees to prevent another nuclear disaster.
In their Friday warning, the Main Intelligence Directorate revealed Russian forces had refused to give access to Ukrainian repairmen to restore power to the planet. Instead, they reportedly allowed “Belarusian specialists” to enter.
“Among them…also enter Russian dissidents to organize a terrorist attack,” the bureau alleged.
The post later accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being ready to “commit to nuclear blackmail” over the massive support Western nations have given to Ukraine, saying his actions “will have catastrophic consequences for the whole world.”
Ukraine confirmed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Thursday that it lost all communications with the plant – which had been running on emergency diesel generators.
“The subsequent loss of communication meant that the regulator could no longer provide updated information about the site to the IAEA,” the agency said in a Thursday statement.
“According to the information received before the loss of communication, both of the site’s power lines had been damaged, in effect disconnecting it from the grid, the Ukraine’s regulatory authority said. To ensure continued power, these lines would either need to be repaired or the generators holding fuel for two days would require additional diesel deliveries.”
If the emergency generators lose power, it is possible for staff to monitor the water level and temperature of radioactive fuel. However, they would not “be able to follow operational radiation safety procedures.”
Russia forces have also seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has six reactors of a more modern, safer design than the one at Chernobyl. As of Thursday, two of those reactors remain operational.