LVIV, Ukraine/KYIV/PARIS, March 4 (Reuters) – A huge blaze at the site of Europe’s biggest nuclear power station was extinguished on Friday, and officials said the plant in southeastern Ukraine was operating normally after it was seized by Russian forces in fighting that caused global alarm.
Separately, the governor of Mykolayiv said Russian troops had entered his city of around 500,000 people but a presidential adviser later said the Russian advance had been halted.
The city, a ship-building hub, is in southern Ukraine where Russian forces have made the most progress so far, and if captured it would be the biggest yet to fall.
Officials said the fire at the Zaporizhzhia compound was in a training centre and not at the plant itself. An official at Energoatom, the state enterprise that runs Ukraine’s four nuclear plants, said there was no further fighting, the fire was out, radiation was normal and Russian forces were in control
“Personnel are on their working places providing normal operation of the station,” the official told Reuters in a message.
He said his organisation no longer had communication with the plant’s managers, control over the radiation situation there or oversight of potentially dangerous nuclear material in its six reactors and about 150 containers of spent fuel.
Russia’s defence ministry also said the plant was working normally. It blamed the fire on a “monstrous attack” by Ukrainian saboteurs and said its forces were in control.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said the plant was undamaged from what he believed was a Russian projectile. Only one reactor was working, at around 60% of capacity. He described the situation as still tense, with the plant operating normally but nothing normal about it.
A video from the plant verified by Reuters had earlier shown one building aflame, and a volley of incoming shells, before a large incandescent ball lit up the sky, exploding beside a car park and sending smoke billowing across the compound.
The prospect that fighting at the plant could cause a potential nuclear disaster had set world financial markets tumbling.
Even with that scenario seemingly averted, Russia’s grip on a plant that provides more than a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity was a big development after eight days of war in which other Russian advances have been stalled by fierce resistance.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and other Western officials said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels.
“Europeans, please wake up. Tell your politicians – Russian troops are shooting at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address. In another address later he called on Russians to protest.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or wounded and more than 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Feb. 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.
Russian forces advancing from three directions have besieged Ukrainian cities and pounded them with artillery and air strikes. Moscow says its aim is to disarm its neighbour and capture leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call that a baseless pretext for a war to conquer the country of 44 million people.
Russia had already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe when it melted down in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type.
FIGHTING RAGES, SANCTIONS MOUNT
In Russia itself, where Putin’s main opponents have largely been jailed or driven into exile over the past year, the war has been accompanied by a further crackdown on dissent. Authorities have banned reports that refer to the “special military operation” as a “war” or “invasion”. Anti-war demonstrations have been quickly squelched with thousands of arrests.