Ukraine’s nuclear operator said on Tuesday that Russian forces were carrying out covert work at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which could shed light on Russian claims that Ukraine’s military was preparing a “provocation” with a radioactive device.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made an unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine was preparing to launch a so-called dirty bomb. Shoigu played down the charge over the weekend after calling his counterparts in Britain, France, Turkey and the United States. Britain, France and the US rejected it as “patently false”.
Ukraine also dismissed Moscow’s claim as 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 effort to sow terror.
Ukraine’s state-owned company Energoatom, which operates four of the country’s nuclear power plants, said Russian forces had carried out secret construction work at the occupied Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Ukraine over the past week.
Russian officers controlling the area will not give access to Ukrainian personnel who run the plant or to UN Atomic Energy Commission monitors 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 attack using nuclear material and radioactive waste” stored at the plant. It said the plant’s dry spent fuel storage contained 174 containers, each containing 24 spent fuel assemblies.
“Destruction of these containers as a result of the explosion will cause a radiation accident and radiation contamination of several hundred square kilometers (miles) of the surrounding area,” the company said.
It invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess what was happening.
The UN Security Council held closed consultations on the dirty bomb allegations on Tuesday at Russia’s request.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebentsia, sent a five-page letter to council members ahead of the meeting, alleging that, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Institute of Nuclear Research of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kyiv and the Vostochny Mining and Processing Plant “have received direct orders from (President Volodymyr) Zelensky’s regime to develop such a dirty ball” and “the works are in the final stage”.
Nebenzia said the ministry also received word that this work “can be done with the support of Western countries.” He also warned that the authorities in Kiev and their Western backers “will take full responsibility for all the consequences of the use of the ‘dirty bomb’, which Russia will consider an act of ‘nuclear terrorism.’
After the council meeting, journalists asked Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, what evidence Russia has that Zelensky gave the order to develop a “dirty bomb.” He replied, “It’s intelligence.”
“We shared it on the phone with colleagues who have the necessary clearance,” he said. “Those who wanted to understand that the threat was serious had every opportunity to understand it. Those who want to dismiss it as Russian propaganda will do so anyway.
Polanski said the IAEA may send inspectors to investigate the “dirty bomb” allegations.
Britain’s deputy ambassador to the UN, James Kariuki, told reporters after the meeting that “we have not seen or heard any new evidence”, and the UK, France and the US made clear that “this is a patently false claim” and “pure Russian disinformation”. He said: “Ukraine has been clear that it has nothing to hide” and “IAEA inspectors are on their way.”
In a related matter, Russia asked the Security Council to create a commission to investigate its claims that the United States and Ukraine are violating a convention banning the use of biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories.
Soon after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, its ambassador to the UN, Vasiliy Nebenzia, claimed that secret American laboratories in Ukraine were involved in biological warfare, which the United States and Ukraine deny.
On Thursday, Russia convened a meeting of the Security Council regarding the Ukrainian biological laboratories and the accusations made in them.
The Kremlin has insisted that its warning about Ukraine’s alleged plan to use a dirty bomb should be taken seriously, and has criticized Western countries for shrugging it off.
Rejecting Moscow’s warning is “unacceptable given the seriousness of the threat we talked about,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
In a conference call with journalists, Peskov added: “We emphasize once again the serious danger posed by the plans developed by the Ukrainians.”
US President Joe Biden was asked at the White House on Tuesday whether Russia was preparing to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon after making his claims that Ukraine would use a dirty bomb.
“I spent a lot of time today talking about it,” Biden told reporters.
The president was also asked if the Ukraine dirty bomb allegations amounted to a false flag operation.
“Let me just say that Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake if it were to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “I’m not guaranteeing it’s a false flag operation yet…but it would be a serious, serious mistake.”
Dirty bombs do not have the devastating destruction of a nuclear explosion, but they can expose large areas to radioactive contamination.
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