IODINE tablets have been dished out to residents living near Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant in Ukraine over fears of a radiation leak.
It comes amid mounting fears that the site could be the scene of a catastrophic nuclear disaster as both Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of putting the plant at risk.
Fires burning around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in UkraineCredit: Reuters
A mother and child receive iodine tablets in ZaporizhzhiaCredit: AP
As fears of a radiation disaster loom, iodine tablets were issuedCredit: AP
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was disconnected from the grid for the first time ever on Thursday after fire damage to overhead power lines caused the last two reactors to be cut off.
Shelling continued overnight as satellite images from Planet Labs showed fires burning around the plant.
As fears of a radiation disaster loom, iodine tablets were issued in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia – about 27 miles from the site.
The pills help block the absorption of radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland in the case of a nuclear disaster.
The UN’s atomic energy agency has been trying to send a team in to inspect and help secure the power plant to avert a crisis.
Officials said preparations for the trip are underway – but it remained unclear when it might take place.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been occupied by Russian forces and run by Ukrainian workers since the early days of the six-month-old war.
The two sides have repeatedly accused each other of shelling the site.
Satellite images show Vladimir Putin’s forces massing at the site amid growing calls for Zaporizhzhia to become a demilitarised zone.
Ukraine has accused Russia of torturing Ukrainian nuclear workers at the plant, further compromising safety at the plant.
On Thursday, Ukraine and Russia blamed one another for the transmission-line damage that knocked the plant off the power grid.
It’s not clear what went wrong, but Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said the plant’s emergency backup diesel generators had to be activated to supply electricity.
The plant requires power to run the reactors’ vital cooling systems – and a loss of cooling could lead to a nuclear meltdown.
On Friday, Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s transmission system operator, said the two damaged main lines had resumed operation.
And the country’s nuclear power agency, Energoatom, said the plant had been reconnected to the grid.
The agency said: “The nuclear workers of Zaporizhzhia power plant are real heroes!
A Russian serviceman guards an area of the Zaporizhzhia plantCredit: AP
Images taken by Planet Labs show smoke rising from fires at ZaporizhzhiaCredit: AP
“They tirelessly and firmly uphold the nuclear and radiation safety of Ukraine and the whole of Europe on their shoulders.”
But Russia officials in the Zaporizhzhia region said the plant was supplying electricity only to Russia-controlled areas of the country – and not the rest of Ukraine.
Ukraine has claimed Russia is using the plant as a shield by storing weapons there and launching attacks from the area.
Meanwhile, Moscow has accused Ukraine of recklessly firing on the plant.
Zaporizhzhia’s reactors are protected by thick, reinforced concrete domes that experts say can withstand shelling.
Many of the radiation fears centre on a possible loss of the cooling system – and the risk that an attack on the cooling ponds where spent fuel rods are kept could scatter radioactive material.
Ukraine knows better than any other country on Earth the risks associated with nuclear power.
Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the north of the country exploded and went into meltdown while under Soviet control back in 1986.
It sent a radiation plume into the atmosphere which spread across the world and rendered huge swathes of Ukraine completely uninhabitable as they remain dangerously radioactive.
Kyiv has never forgotten the lessons learned from the disaster – which may have led to the early deaths of up to 60,000 people worldwide.
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