KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s nuclear power operator said Tuesday that Russian forces were carrying out covert work at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, an activity that could shed light on Russia’s claims that the Ukrainian army is preparing a “provocation” involving a radioactive device.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made an unsubstantiated allegation that Ukraine was preparing to launch a so-called dirty bomb. Shoigu leveled the charge over the weekend in calls to his British, French, Turkish and American counterparts. Britain, France and the United States dismissed it outright as “false transparency”.
Ukraine also dismissed Moscow’s claim as an attempt to distract from the Kremlin’s own alleged plans to detonate a dirty bomb, which uses explosives to disperse radioactive waste in a bid to spread terror.
Energoatom, the Ukrainian state-owned company that operates the country’s four nuclear power plants, said Russian forces had carried out secret construction work over the past week at Ukraine’s occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Russian officers controlling the area will not give access to Ukrainian personnel who run the plant or to UN atomic energy watchdog monitors that would allow them to see what the Russians are doing, Energoatom said Tuesday in a a statement.
Energoatom said it “assumes that” the Russians “are planning a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored in” the plant. He said there were 174 containers in the plant’s spent fuel dry storage facility, each containing 24 spent nuclear fuel assemblies.
“The destruction of these containers following an explosion will lead to a radiological accident and radioactive contamination of several hundred square kilometers (miles) of the adjacent territory,” the company said.
He asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess what was happening.
The UN Security Council was due to hold closed consultations on the dirty bomb allegations later Tuesday at Russia’s request.
Russia has asked the council to create a commission to investigate its allegations that the United States and Ukraine are violating the convention banning the use of biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, its ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, claimed that secret US laboratories in Ukraine were engaged in biological warfare – a charge denied by states. States and Ukraine.
The Kremlin insisted its warning about an alleged Ukrainian plan to use a dirty bomb should be taken seriously and criticized Western nations for ignoring it.
The dismissal of Moscow’s warning is “unacceptable given the seriousness of the danger we talked about”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Peskov added: “We again underline the grave danger posed by the plans hatched by the Ukrainians.”
At the White House, US President Joe Biden was asked on Tuesday whether Russia was preparing to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon after claiming Ukraine would use a dirty bomb.
“I spent a lot of time today talking about it,” Biden told reporters.
The president was also asked if the allegations about a Ukrainian dirty bomb constituted a false flag operation.
“Let me say that Russia would be making an incredibly grave mistake if it used a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “I’m not giving you any guarantees yet that this is a false flag operation…but that would be a big, big mistake.”
Dirty bombs lack the devastating destruction of a nuclear explosion, but could expose large areas to radioactive contamination.
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