Europe's largest nuclear power plant reportedly on fire in Ukraine

"Active firefight is going on inside a facility that is already on fire and controls 6 reactors," Sen. Marco Rubio wrote on Twitter.

Updated: March 3, 2022 - 11:15pm

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The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine is reportedly on fire while a gunfight between Ukrainians and Russian invaders rages on early Friday morning.

Located in Enerhodar in southern Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia is Europe's largest nuclear power plant and has six reactors. It generates about a quarter of Ukraine's power.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm urged Russia to stop fighting near the plant. The reactors are being shut down and no elevated radiation levels have been detected near the facility, she said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency announced that it has put its Incident and Emergency Centre in "full 24/7 response mode" for the situation. The IAEA also reported that no "essential" equipment was affected and Zaporizhzhia staff is "taking mitigatory actions."

The White House confirmed that U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and an official at the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration. The two presidents are "urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site," the press release states.

"Active firefight is going on inside a facility that is already on fire and controls 6 reactors," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted. "Firefighters unable to fight the fire because they are in the middle of a combat zone."

Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba warned that if the plant "blows up," it will be far worse than the Chernobyl nuclear crisis. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates the 1986 disaster directly killed at least 6,000 people.

"Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Fire has already broke out," Kuleba tweeted. "If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!"

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi is appealing for the use of force to stop and warns of "severe danger" if any of the reactors are hit, the agency stated.

Rubio said Ukrainian TV has stated that one reactor is on fire at the plant, but it is not currently in operation. However, the reactor does contain nuclear fuel, he said.

Contrary to Granholm and the IAEA, Rubio also said that Ukrainian energy officials are telling U.S. authorities that they are detecting elevated radiation levels at Zaporizhzhia.

"There is all sorts of contradictory information from officials in #Ukraine," he tweeted. "This is understandable given the fact their country is being invaded and at war. An accurate damage assessment and determination about the danger of a leak, if any, will not be available for hours."

Enerhodar's mayor, Dmytro Orlov, sent a message on Telegram shortly before 2 a.m. local time, stating that the plant is on fire, which he said is a "threat to world security."

Live video of the power plant shows smoke rising from the area, while active gun fire and explosions rage on. It is unclear from the video whether the smoke is rising from the plant itself or from the surrounding buildings.

Rubio pointed out that the power plant is "built to withstand a direct hit from an airplane crash."

Problems may arise when there is a "loss of power or a shell draining the pools used to store spent fuel," he wrote. "If that fuel isn’t cooled it can melt & release large amounts of radioactivity."

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