KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine’s nuclear energy 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 Russian claims that ” provocation” being prepared by the Ukrainian military involving a radioactive device.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a baseless allegation that Ukraine was preparing to launch a so-called dirty bomb. Shoigu leveled the charge over the weekend in calls to his counterparts in Britain, France, Turkey and the United States. Britain, France and the United States rejected it out of hand as “obviously false.”
Ukraine also rejected Moscow’s claim in an attempt to divert attention from the Kremlin’s own alleged plans to detonate a dirty bomb, which uses explosives to disperse radioactive waste in an attempt to cause terror.
Energoatom, the Ukrainian state enterprise that operates the country’s four nuclear power plants, said that Russian forces have carried out secret construction work over the past week at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.
Russian officials who control the area will not give access to Ukrainian staff running the plant or to monitors from the United Nations atomic energy watchdog that would allow them to see what the Russians are doing, Energoatom said in a statement on Tuesday.
Energoatom said it “assumes” that the Russians are “preparing a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at” the plant. He said the plant’s dry spent fuel storage facility had 174 containers, each containing 24 assemblies of spent nuclear fuel.
“Destruction of these containers by explosion will result in a radiation accident and radiation contamination of hundreds of square kilometers (miles) of nearby territory,” the company said.
He asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess what was going on.
The United Nations Security Council held closed-door consultations on Tuesday about the dirty bomb allegations at the request of Russia.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia sent a five-page letter to council members ahead of the meeting claiming that the Ukrainian Nuclear Research Institute of the National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv and the Vostochniy Mining and Processing Plant had “just been acquired by the Russian Ministry of Defense . orders from (President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy’s regime to develop such a dirty bomb” and “the works are at the final stage.”
Nebenzia said that the ministry also received news that this work “could be done 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 view as an “act of nuclear terrorism”.
Reporters asked Russia’s deputy ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, after the council meeting what evidence Russia has that Zelenskyy gave orders to develop a “dirty bomb”. He replied, “It’s intelligence information.”
“We shared it in our telephone conversation with colleagues who have the required level of clearance,” he said. “Those who wanted to understand that the threat is serious, they had every possibility to understand that. Those who want to dismiss it as Russian propaganda will do so anyway.”
Polyansky said the IAEA can send inspectors to investigate “dirty bomb” allegations.
Britain’s deputy ambassador to the UN, James Kariuki, told reporters after the meeting that “we have seen and heard no new evidence” and the UK, France and the US made it clear that “this is a transparently false allegation” and “Pure Russian disinformation.” He said, “It is clear from Ukraine that there is nothing to hide” and “IEA inspectors are on the way.”
In a related matter, Russia asked the Security Council to establish a commission to investigate its claims that the United States and Ukraine are violating the convention that prohibits the use of biological weapons in laboratories in Ukraine.
Soon after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia claimed that secret American laboratories in Ukraine were engaged in biological warfare – a charge denied by the US and Ukraine.
Russia called a meeting of the Security Council on Thursday regarding the Ukrainian biological laboratories and its allegations.
The Kremlin has insisted that its warning about a purported plan by Ukraine to use a dirty bomb should be taken seriously and has criticized Western nations for downplaying it.
The dismissal of Moscow’s warning is “unacceptable given the seriousness of the danger we talked about,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Speaking during a conference call with reporters, Peskov said: “We emphasize again the great danger of the plans hatched by the Ukrainians.”
At the White House, US President Joe Biden was asked on Tuesday whether Russia is preparing to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon after he claimed that Ukraine will use a dirty bomb.
“I spent a lot of time today talking about that,” Biden told reporters.
The president was also asked if the claims about a dirty bomb from Ukraine were a fake operation.
“Let me say, Russia would be making a very serious mistake if it were to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “I’m still not guaranteeing you it’s a botched operation … but it would be a serious, serious mistake.”
Dirty bombs do not destroy catastrophically in a nuclear explosion, but they can expose wide areas to radioactive contamination.
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