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Russia doesn't acknowledge 'grave radiological risk' at Ukraine nuclear power plant: United States

The United States said on Sunday that Russia did not want to acknowledge the grave radiological risk at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, and accused Russia of using that reticence to block a nuclear non-proliferation treaty deal's final draft.

Rocket and artillery strikes continue to hit areas near Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine

Protesters march near the White House to support Ukraine.
Demonstrators march on Pennsylvania Avenue to protest Russia's invasion of Ukraine as they celebrate the 31st independence day of Ukraine outside the White House in Washington on Saturday. (Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press)

The United States said on Sunday that Russia did not want to acknowledge the grave radiological risk at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, and accused Russia of using that reticence to block a nuclear non-proliferation treaty deal's final draft.

"The Russian Federation alone decided to block consensus on a final document at the conclusion of the Tenth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Russia did so in order to block language that merely acknowledged the grave radiological risk at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

The statement comes after Russia blocked an agreement on Friday on the final draft of a review of the UN treaty, considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament, over criticism of Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said Sunday that Russian rocket and artillery strikes hit areas across the Dnieper River from Europe's largest nuclear power plant as fears persisted that fighting in the vicinity could damage the plant and cause a radiation leak.

Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant soon after the war began and hold adjacent territory along the left bank of the wide river. Ukraine controls the right bank, including the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, each of them about 10 kilometres from the plant.

This composite of satellite images taken by Planet Labs PBC shows smoke rising from fires at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine on Aug. 24. (Planet Labs PBC/The Associated Press)

Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that Ukrainian forces had shelled the plant twice over the past day and that some shells fell near buildings storing reactor fuel and radioactive waste.

Radiation levels 'normal'

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also reported Sunday that radiation levels were normal, that two of the Zaporizhzhia plant's six reactors were operating and that while no complete assessment had yet been made, recent fighting had damaged a water pipeline, since repaired.

In another apparent attack Sunday, Russian forces shot down an armed Ukrainian drone targeting one of the Zaporizhzhia plant's spent fuel storage sites, a local official said. Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed regional official, said on the Telegram messaging app that the drone crashed onto a building's roof, not causing any significant damage or injuring anyone.

Ukraine's atomic energy agency Energoatom painted an ominous picture of the threat Sunday by issuing a radiation map showing that, based on wind forecasts for Monday, a nuclear cloud could spread across southern Ukraine and southwestern Russia.

Release of the map may have been meant to warn that if Russian forces were responsible for a radiation leak, their own country would suffer. In the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, the world's worst atomic energy catastrophe, radiation spread from Ukraine to several neighbouring countries.

Authorities last week began distributing iodine tablets to residents who live near the Zaporizhzhia plant in case of radiation exposure, which can cause health problems.

Much of the concern centres on the cooling systems for the plant's nuclear reactors. The systems require power to run, and the plant was temporarily knocked offline Thursday because of what officials said was fire damage to a transmission line. A cooling system failure could cause a nuclear meltdown.

Russian forces occupied the nuclear plant complex early in the six-month-old war, but local Ukrainian workers have kept it running. The Ukrainian and Russian governments have repeatedly accused the other of shelling the complex and nearby areas, raising fears of a possible catastrophe.

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop of an armoured vehicle on a road in Donetsk region in Eastern Ukraine on Sunday. (Leo Correa/The Associated Press)

Heavy firing during the night left parts of Nikopol without electricity, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. Rocket strikes damaged about a dozen residences in Marhanets, according to Yevhen Yevtushenko, the administration head for the district that includes the city of about 45,000.

Periodic shelling has damaged the power station's infrastructure, Ukraine's nuclear power operator, Energoatom, said Saturday.

"There are risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and the fire hazard is high," it said.

The UN's atomic energy agency has tried to work out an agreement to send a team in to inspect and help secure the plant. Officials said preparations for the visit were underway, but it remained unclear when it might take place.

The city of Zaporizhzhia, about 40 kilometres upriver from the nuclear plant, also came under fire during the night, wounding two people, city council member Anatoliy Kurtev said.

Downriver from the nuclear plant, the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant and the city adjacent to it were hit by Ukrainian rockets three times on Sunday, said Vladimir Leontyev, the head of the Russia-installed local administration.

The plant's dam is a major roadway across the river and a potentially key supply route for Russian forces. The dam also forms a reservoir that provides water for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

Shelling in Donetsk

In Eastern Ukraine, where Russian and separatist forces are trying to take control, shelling hit the large and strategically significant cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, but no casualties were reported, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region.

A man sits in front of a burned-out building in Ukraine.
Workers drain water from a crater created by an explosion that damaged a residential building after a Russian attack in Slovyansk, Ukraine, on Sunday. (Leo Correa/The Associated Press)

Much of the Donetsk region is held by Russian and separatist forces. It is one of two Ukrainian regions that Russia has recognized as sovereign states.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed again Sunday to re-take the separatist areas.

"The invaders brought degradation and death and they believe that they are there forever," Zelenskyy said Sunday in his nightly video address. "But it's a temporary thing for them. Ukraine will return. For sure. Life will return."

With files from The Associated Press