President Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky called on Russia Thursday to give up control of a nuclear power plant Moscow’s forces captured earlier this year and allow United Nations inspectors access so they could determine whether the situation is stable.
A White House readout of the call was released as reports indicated that the Zaporizhzhia plant had been temporarily disconnected from the Ukrainian grid because of fire damage that caused a blackout, raising fears of another catastrophe like the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.
It was the first time Zaporizhzhia was cut off from the grid.
The fires damaged a transmission line carrying outgoing energy from the plant, Europe’s largest, leading to the outage, said Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed regional governor.
Two reactors went offline, he said, but workers had managed to restore one of them and service was restored.
Ukraine has warned that Russian troops who captured the plant in March have been holding the facility hostage while storing weapons there and using it as a base from which to launch attacks.
Moscow has accused Kyiv of creating a dangerous situation by shelling the plant.
Biden also congratulated Zelensky on Ukraine’s Independence Day, which the country marked with subdued celebrations on Wednesday, and “expressed his admiration for the people of Ukraine, who have inspired the world as they defended their country’s sovereignty over the past six months,” the White House said.
During the call, the president reiterated Washington’s continued support for the Kyiv government and ”provided an update on the ongoing provision of security assistance, including yesterday’s announcement of nearly $3 billion to support Ukraine’s defense capabilities for the long term.”
The Zaporizhzhya plant supplies more than 20% of Ukraine’s energy and any disruption or loss of function would deal a severe blow to the country’s power supply, which has already been greatly reduced since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
The power outage heightened concerns that the plant could be damaged by the ongoing conflict.
“Anybody who understands nuclear safety issues has been trembling for the last six months,” Mycle Schneider, an independent policy consultant and coordinator of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, said prior to Thursday’s outage.
Speaking at the White House briefing Thursday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Russia should allow a buffer zone to be established around the plant.
“Russia should agree to the demilitarized zone around the plant and agree to allow an International Atomic Energy Agency visit as soon as possible to check on the safety and security of the system,” she told reporters.
Biden also spoke about the threat posed by the fighting around the plant during a phone call Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
All four agreed on “the need to avoid military operations near the plant and the importance of an [International Atomic Energy Agency] visit as soon as feasible to ascertain the state of safety systems.”
Ukraine told the IAEA that shelling earlier this week had damaged transformers at a nearby power plant and disrupted the electrical supply to Zaporizhzhia for a number of hours.
On Thursday, IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi said he hopes a team will reach the plant within “days.”
With Post wires