Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian nuclear operator said Tuesday that Russian troops are working covertly at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, an activity that could reveal what Russia claims is preparing a “provocation” involving a radioactive device.
Russian Defense Minister Shoigu baseless accusations Ukraine was preparing to fire so-called dirty bombsShoigu made the accusation by calling his British, French, Turkish and American counterparts over the weekend. The UK, France and the US rejected it as “clearly wrong”.
Ukraine also dismissed Moscow’s claims that it was trying to divert attention from the Kremlin’s own so-called dirty bomb program, which uses explosives to spread radioactive waste to sow terror.
Energoatom, the Ukrainian state-owned company that operates four of the country’s nuclear power plants, said Russian troops carried out covert construction work at the occupied Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Ukraine last week.
Energoatom said in a statement on Tuesday that Russian officials who control the area will not let Ukrainian workers into the plant or the monitors of the United Nations atomic energy watchdog, which would allow them to see what the Russians are doing.
Energoatom said it “assumes” that the Russians “are preparing for terrorist acts using the nuclear material and radioactive waste stored at the plant”. The plant’s dry spent fuel storage facility has 174 containers, each containing 24 spent nuclear fuel assemblies, it said.
“The destruction of these containers by the explosion will result in a radiation accident and radiation contamination of hundreds of square kilometers (miles) of adjacent areas,” the company said.
It called on the IAEA to assess what was happening.
The UN Security Council held closed-door consultations on the dirty bomb allegations on Tuesday at the request of Russia.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzia, sent a five-page letter to Council members ahead of the meeting, claiming that, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv and the Nuclear Research Institute of the Orient Mining and Processing Plant “A direct order has been received from the (President) Zelensky’s regime to develop this dirty bomb,” “These works are in the final stages.”
The ministry has also received information that the work “may be carried out with the support of Western countries,” Nebenzia said. He warned that the Kyiv authorities and their Western backers “will take full responsibility” for all consequences of the use of the “dirty bomb”, which Russia sees as “an act of nuclear terrorism”.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, was asked by reporters after the Security Council meeting what evidence Russia had that Zelensky ordered the development of a “dirty bomb”. “It’s intelligence information,” he replied.
“We shared this in our phone conversations with our peers who have the necessary clearance levels,” he said. “Those who want to understand that the threat is serious, it’s entirely possible that they understand it. Those who want to reject it as Russian propaganda, they will do it anyway.”
Polianski said the IAEA could send inspectors to investigate allegations of “dirty bombs.”
Britain, France and the United States made it clear that “this is a clear false accusation” and “purely Russian error message”. “Ukraine is well aware that it has nothing to hide,” he said. “The IAEA inspectors are on their way.”
On a related issue, Russia has asked the Security Council to set up a committee to investigate its claims that the United States and Ukraine violated a convention banning the use of biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, its U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, claimed that the U.S. engaged in biological warfare in secret Ukrainian laboratories — an allegation the U.S. and Ukraine deny.
Russia has convened a Security Council meeting on Thursday to discuss Ukraine’s biolab and its allegations.
The Kremlin has insisted that warnings that Ukraine was planning to use a dirty bomb should be taken seriously and criticized the West for ignoring it.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said ignoring Moscow’s warning was “unacceptable given the seriousness of the danger we have spoken about.”
“We re-emphasize the serious dangers posed by the plans orchestrated by the Ukrainians,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters.
At the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden was asked Tuesday whether Russia was preparing to deploy tactical nuclear weapons after Russia claimed Ukraine would use a dirty bomb.
“I spent a lot of time today talking about this,” Biden told reporters.
The president was also asked whether claims about Ukraine’s dirty bomb constitute false operations.
“I just want to say that if Russia were to use tactical nuclear weapons, it would have made an extremely serious mistake,” Biden said. “I can’t assure you yet that this was a fake operation … but it would be a very serious mistake. “
Dirty bombs do not have the devastating damage of a nuclear explosion, but can expose large areas to radioactive contamination.
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