UPDATE, 6:55 AM: The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said that “it is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant,” amid reports that Russians have seized the Zaporizhzhia facility.
“Putin’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further,” the Embassy said.
The fire at the plant reportedly has been extinguished, after the pictures of flames coming from the facility raised grace concerns of a nuclear disaster.
Rafael Mario Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that Ukrainian officials said that “the nuclear power plant continued to be operated by its regular staff and there had been no release of radioactive material.”
A projectile struck a training building in the vicinity of one of the plant’s reactor units, causing the fire that was later extinguished.
“However, the operator has reported that the situation remains very challenging and therefore it has not yet been possible to access the whole site to assess that all safety systems are fully functional,” the IAEA said.
“Firing shells in the area of a nuclear power plant violates the fundamental principle that the physical integrity of nuclear facilities must be maintained and kept safe at all time,” Grossi said.
PREVIOUSLY, 6:25 PM, Thursday: The President of the United States and the President of Ukraine have spoken directly tonight about “the fire at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,” the White House says.
“President Biden joined President Zelenskyy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” the administration said in a brief statement late Thursday. “President Biden also spoke this evening with Under Secretary for Nuclear Security of the U.S. Department of Energy and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to receive an update on the situation at the plant. The President will continue to be briefed regularly,” the statement added.
Livestream footage indicates that the shelling and gunfire from Russian forces on Europe’s largest nuclear plant continues.
However, MSNBC is reporting that Ukrainian officials are now saying the “fire broke out in a training building outside the plant’s perimeter” and the fireproofing material is keeping the reactors safe. A spokesperson for the plant told CNN’s Anderson Cooper via a phone interview that while there were multiple fires everything was okay right now in terms of the reactors. He added ominously that a “nuclear accident” could occur if Russia doesn’t stop firing on the structures. “Please help us,” the Zaporizhzhia NPP official ended his call with Cooper, asking, as President Zelenskyy has, for a no-fly zone.
Back in the States, the Energy Secretary offered more information, kind of:
I just spoke with Ukraine’s energy minister about the situation at the Zaphorizhizia nuclear plant. Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease. 1/
— Secretary Jennifer Granholm (@SecGranholm) March 4, 2022
The plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down. 3/3
— Secretary Jennifer Granholm (@SecGranholm) March 4, 2022
PREVIOUSLY, 5:44 PM: “You are looking at live pictures of a fire that has broken out at a Ukrainian nuclear power plant in the town of Enerhodar after an attack by Russian troops,” said CNN’s Erin Burnett tonight in what could be one of the biggest events so far in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Eastern European nation so far.
“Firefighters are unable to reach the power plant, according to the Mayor,” added the anchor as the shelling and gunfire went on. You can see the unfolding situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in real time on the livestream below:
Located in south central Ukraine, the Enerhohr plant is the largest in the country and the largest in all of Europe. Containing six reactors, with one under repair before today’s fighting, the plant provides around 25% of the country’s power source. As the bombardment intensified, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister took to social media to put the stakes in deadly perspective:
Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Fire has already broke out. If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 4, 2022
Not longer after, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency offered their own POV:
IAEA Director General @RafaelMGrossi speaks with #Ukraine PM Denys Shmygal and with Ukrainian nuclear regulator and operator about serious situation at #Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, appeals for halt of use of force and warns of severe danger if reactors hit.
— IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency (@iaeaorg) March 4, 2022
While CNN picked up on the breaking news out of Enerhohr at around 4:30 PM PT, Fox News Channel wasn’t that far behind. “Explosions & Gunfire Reported Outside Ukraine’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant” read one lower third on the Rupert Murdoch-owned outlet as host Jesse Watters interviewed correspondents on what was happening. Taking over at the top of the top of the hour like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, FNC’s Tucker Carlson leaped right into what he called “potentially a disaster.”
Back on CNN, described “Nuclear Policy Expert” Graham Allison compared today’s battle in Enerhohar to one of the horrors of the Cold War. “We should remember that Chernobyl in ’86 was a meltdown that spewed radioactive material all over Western Europe,’ Allison told a Kyiv located Cooper. “So it is conceivable that one could have another version of that. I hope not, I pray not.”
Though not heard on cable news, others online cautioned such Chernobyl comparisons:
The actual nuclear specialists are coming out of the woodwork to say that no, it would not be a marvel-movie-style explosion. Yes, it's bad — fuel could leak. But let's not retweet gov't pronouncements uncritically. It's a different kind of reactor than Chernobyl. pic.twitter.com/udyigaEWk8
— Ilya Lozovsky (@ichbinilya) March 4, 2022
Initially, MSNBC made no reference to the potentially disastrous state of affairs in Enerhohr. Instead, the Comcast-owned outlet stayed with Joy Reid focusing on U.S. domestic politics and divisions. It wasn’t until Chris Hayes took over at 5 PM ET that the channel even mentioned what was occurring in Enerhohar. Even then, MSNBC reverted to Beltway topics and themes fairly fast.
Just over a week ago, Putin ordered an invasion of neighboring Ukraine, a burgeoning democracy. The bunker-located ex-KGB agent issued the order under the pretext that Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine were under threat from purported “Nazi” forces there. The country he invaded with over 150,000 troops is led by a Russian speaker of Jewish heritage named Volodymyr Zelensky, whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
After surrounding Ukraine with 200,000 troops, Putin’s force was expected to quickly overwhelm the country and install a puppet government. Instead, more than a week later, as U.S. and its allies slapped severe economic sanctions on the increasingly isolated Russia, Putin’s troops have met stiff resistance from Ukraine’s military standing shoulder-to-shoulder with citizen volunteers. There is some expectation that, given the complications, Putin is ratcheting up the brutality of the attack.
As news broke of the battle at the Enerhohar plant, American politicians began to chime in, as expected:
#Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in #Ukraine has 6 reactors, is the largest one in all of Europe, and the 9th largest on earth #Russia is currently attacking it with mortars and RPGs
Portions of the plan are currently on fire
Russians firing on the Firefighters too
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 4, 2022
This is insane. Russian forces must stop attacking Zaporizhzhia NOW. A fire that gets out of control at Europe’s largest nuclear power station can cause catastrophic and long-lasting consequences. https://t.co/mTgzEt1Und
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 4, 2022
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