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Radiation leak fears rise as Russia and Ukraine trade claims of attacks on nuclear plant

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine β€” Russia and Ukraine traded claims of rocket and artillery attacks on or near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Sunday, heightening fears the clashes could cause a massive radiation leak.

Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhia Nuclear power plant soon after he was it began and held the adjacent territory along the left bank of the wide Dnieper River. Ukraine controls the Right Bank, including the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, each about 6 miles from the facility.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had attacked the plant twice in the last day and that shells landed near buildings that store reactor fuel and radioactive waste.

“One shell fell in the area of ​​the sixth power unit and the other five in front of the pumping station of the sixth unit, which provides cooling for this reactor,” Konashenkov said, adding that radiation levels were normal.

In another apparent attack on Sunday, Russian forces shot down an armed Ukrainian drone that was targeting one of the Zaporizhzhia plant’s spent fuel storage sites, a local official said. Vladimir Rogov, a regional official based in Russia, said on the Telegram messaging app that the drone crashed into the roof of a building, causing no significant damage or injuring anyone.

Nearby, heavy gunfire overnight left parts of Nikopol without power, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. The rocket attacks damaged a dozen residences in Marhanets, according to Yevhen Yevtushenko, the head of administration for the district that includes the city of about 45,000 people.

The city of Zaporizhzhia, about 25 miles down the Dnieper River from the nuclear plant, was also attacked by the Russians, who damaged dozens of apartment buildings and houses and wounded two people, councilor Anatoliy Kurtev said. Russian forces attacked a Ukrainian air force helicopter repair shop in Zaporizhzhia, Konashenkov said.

Neither party’s claims could be independently verified.

Downstream from the nuclear plant, Ukrainian rockets hit the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant and the adjacent town three times on Sunday, said Vladimir Leontyev, head of the Russian-installed local administration.

The plant’s dam is a major highway across the river and a potentially key supply route to Russia. The dam forms a reservoir that provides water for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

In eastern Ukraine, where Russian and separatist forces are trying to take control, shelling hit the large and strategically important cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, with no reported casualties, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region. Konashenkov said Russian missile strikes killed 250 Ukrainian soldiers and reservists in and near Sloviansk. Ukrainian officials did not comment on the claim, in keeping with their policy of not discussing losses.

Sloviansk resident Kostiantyn Daineko told The Associated Press that he was falling asleep when an explosion blew out the windows of his apartment.

“I opened my eyes and I saw the window frame fly at me, the frame and pieces of broken glass,” he said.

Russian and separatist forces control much of the Donetsk region, one of two that Russia has recognized as sovereign states.

Last week, authorities began distributing iodine tablets to residents living near the Zaporizhzhia plant in case of radiation exposure. Much of the concern centers on the plant’s nuclear reactor coolant systems. The systems require electricity, and the plant was temporarily taken offline Thursday due to what officials said was fire damage to a transmission line. A failure in the cooling system could cause a nuclear meltdown.

Regular shelling has damaged the power plant’s infrastructure, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator Energoatom said on Saturday.

“There are risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and the danger of fire is high,” he said.

The UN atomic energy agency has tried to reach an agreement with Ukrainian and Russian authorities to send a team to inspect and secure the plant, but it was not clear when the visit might take place.

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