KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator said Tuesday that Russian forces are doing covert work at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, an activity that could explain Russian claims that Ukraine’s military is preparing a “provocation” involving radioactive equipment.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made unsubstantiated allegations that Ukraine was preparing to launch the so-called dirty bomb.. Shoigu addressed the accusations over the weekend in a phone call to his British, French, Turkish and US counterparts. Britain, France and the United States rejected it as “transparently false.”
Ukraine also dismissed Moscow’s claims as an attempt to distract attention from the Kremlin’s own plans to detonate dirty bombs, which use explosives to spread radioactive waste in an effort to spread terror.
Energoatom, the Ukrainian state company that operates the country’s four nuclear power plants, said Russian forces had carried out secret construction work in recent weeks at Ukraine’s occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
Russian officials in charge of the region will not give access to Ukrainian staff running the plant or monitoring UN atomic energy watchdogs that would allow them to see what Russia is doing, Energoatom said Tuesday in a statement.
Energoatom said it “considers” Russia “preparing a terrorist act using nuclear material and radioactive waste stored at” the plant. He said there are 174 containers in the plant’s dry spent fuel storage facility, each containing 24 spent nuclear fuel assemblies.
“The destruction of this container as a result of the explosion will lead to a radiation accident and radiation contamination of several hundred square kilometers (miles) in the immediate area,” the company said.
It called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess what happened.
The UN Security Council held closed-door talks on Tuesday on the dirty bomb allegations at Russia’s request.
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia sent a five-page letter to council members before the meeting stating that according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Ukrainian Nuclear Research Institute of the National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv and the Vostochniy Mining and Processing Plant “have received direct orders from (President Volodymyr) the regime Zelenskyy to develop such a dirty bomb” and “the works are in their final stages.”
Nebenzia said the ministry also received word that this work “can be carried out with the support of Western countries.” And he warned that the authorities in Kyiv and their Western supporters “will bear full responsibility for all the consequences” of using a “dirty bomb,” which Russia will consider an “act of nuclear terrorism.”
Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky was asked by journalists after the council meeting what proof Russia had that Zelenskyy had given orders to develop a “dirty bomb”. He replied, “it’s intelligence information.”
“We shared it in our phone conversations with partners who have the required level of clearance,” he said. “Those who want to understand that the threat is serious, they have every possibility to understand it. Those who want to dismiss it as Russian propaganda, they will do that too.
Polyansky said the IAEA could send inspectors to investigate allegations of “dirty bombs.”
Britain’s Deputy UN Ambassador James Kariuki told reporters after the meeting that “we have seen and heard no new evidence” and Britain, France and the US explained “this is a false accusation” and “pure Russian misinformation.” He said, “Ukraine has made it clear that there is nothing to hide” and “IAEA inspectors are on their way.”
In a related matter, Russia asked the Security Council to establish a commission to investigate its claim that the United States and Ukraine violated a convention banning the use of biological weapons in laboratories in Ukraine.
Soon after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, its UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, claimed that secret American laboratories in Ukraine were involved in biological warfare – a charge denied by both the US and Ukraine.
Russia has called a Security Council meeting Thursday about the Ukrainian biological laboratory and its allegations.
The Kremlin stressed that warnings about Ukraine’s alleged plans to use dirty bombs should be taken seriously and criticized Western countries for ignoring them.
Moscow’s dismissal of the warning is “unacceptable because of the seriousness of the danger we are discussing,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Speaking during a conference call with reporters, Peskov added: “We reaffirm the grave danger posed by the plans being made by Ukraine.”
At the White House, US President Joe Biden was asked Tuesday if Russia was preparing to deploy tactical nuclear weapons after making its claim that Ukraine would use dirty bombs.
“I spent a lot of time today talking about it,” Biden told reporters.
The president was also asked whether claims about Ukraine’s dirty bombs amount to false flag operations.
“Let me say, Russia would be making a tremendous mistake if it were to use tactical nuclear weapons,” Biden said. “I can’t guarantee it was a false flag operation … but it would be a serious mistake.”
A dirty bomb does not have the devastating damage of a nuclear explosion but can expose large areas to radioactive contamination.
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