KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces are carrying out covert operations at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s nuclear energy regulator said Tuesday, underscoring Russian claims that the Ukrainian military is preparing a “provocation” involving a radioactive device.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made baseless accusations that Ukraine was preparing what he called a dirty bomb.. Shoigu made the accusation in calls to his British, French, Turkish and US counterparts over the weekend. Britain, France and the United States rejected it out of hand as “transparently false”.
Ukraine dismissed Moscow’s claim as an attempt to divert attention from the Kremlin’s own alleged plans to detonate a dirty bomb that uses explosives to disperse radioactive waste in an attempt to sow terrorism.
Energotum, the Ukrainian state enterprise that operates the country’s four nuclear power plants, said Russian forces had carried out covert construction work at Ukraine’s occupied Zaporizhia nuclear power plant last week.
Russian authorities who control the area do not grant access to Ukrainian staff running the plant or to monitors from the UN’s nuclear energy watchdog that would allow them to see what the Russians are doing, Energotom said in a statement on Tuesday.
Energoatom said it “suspects” that the Russians are preparing a terrorist act using nuclear material and radioactive waste stored at the plant. The plant’s dry spent fuel storage facility has 174 containers, each containing 24 assemblies of spent nuclear fuel, it said.
“Destruction of these containers as a result of the explosion will result in a radiation accident and radiation contamination of several hundred square kilometers (miles) of the adjacent area,” the company said.
It called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess what was happening.
The UN Security Council held closed-door consultations on the dirty-bomb allegations on Tuesday at Russia’s request.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia sent a five-page letter to council members ahead of the meeting, which Ukraine’s Institute for Nuclear Research of the National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv and the Vostochny Mining and Processing Plant “directly received,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Orders from (President Volodymyr) Zelensky’s administration to develop such a dirty bomb” and “work is in the final stages.”
Nebenzia said the ministry had received word that “this work can be carried out with the support of Western countries”. And he warned that officials in Kyiv and their Western backers “bear full responsibility for all consequences” of using the “dirty bomb,” which Russia considers an “act of nuclear terrorism.”
Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky was asked by reporters after the council meeting what evidence Russia had that Zelensky had ordered the development of a “dirty bomb.” He replied, “It is intelligence information.”
“We have shared it in our telephonic conversation with the counterparts who have the required level of clearance,” he said. “Those who wanted to understand that the threat was serious, had every possibility of understanding it. Those who want to dismiss this as Russian propaganda will do so anyway.
Polyansky said the IAEA could send inspectors to investigate allegations of a “dirty bomb”.
Britain’s deputy UN ambassador James Kariuki told reporters after the meeting that “we have seen and heard no new evidence”, and the UK, France and US clarified that “this is a transparently false allegation” and “pure Russian disinformation”. He said, “It is clear that Ukraine has nothing to hide” and that “IAEA inspectors are on the way.”
In a related matter, Russia has asked the Security Council to establish a commission to investigate its claims that the United States and Ukraine are violating the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Biological Weapons at laboratories in Ukraine.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, its UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia claimed that secret American labs in Ukraine were engaged in biological warfare – a charge denied by the US and Ukraine.
Russia called a Security Council meeting on Thursday over Ukraine’s biological labs and its allegations.
The Kremlin has insisted that warnings of a proposed Ukrainian plan to use a dirty bomb be taken seriously and has criticized Western nations for backing it down.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s dismissal of the warning was “unacceptable in view of the seriousness of the danger we have talked about”.
Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Peskov added: “We emphasize once again the serious danger posed by the plans devised 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 he said Ukraine would use a dirty bomb.
“I spent a lot of time on that today,” Biden told reporters.
The president was asked if the statements about the Ukrainian dirty bomb amounted to a false-flag operation.
“I would say that Russia would make an incredibly serious mistake if it used a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “I’m not guaranteeing you it’s still a false-flag operation … but it’s a serious, serious mistake.”
Dirty bombs do not have the devastating destruction of a nuclear explosion but can expose large areas to radioactive contamination.
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