By Natalia Zinets
KYIV (Reuters) -The head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom called on Monday for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to be made a military-free zone, warning of the risk of a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster after the site was hit by shelling.
He called for a team of peacekeepers to be deployed at the site in comments on television after Ukraine and Russia accused each of shelling the nuclear power plant – Europe’s biggest – which lies in Russian-controlled southern Ukraine.[nL1N2ZK03P]
“The decision that we demand from the world community and all our partners… is to withdraw the invaders from the territory of the station and create a demilitarized zone on the territory of the station,” Petro Kotin said on television.
“The presence of peacekeepers in this zone and the transfer of control of it to them, and then also control of the station to the Ukrainian side would resolve this problem,” he said.
Russian forces captured the plant in Ukraine’s southeast in early March, shortly after Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour, but it is still run by Ukrainian technicians.
Kotin flagged the risk of shelling hitting spent nuclear fuel containers as a particular danger.
“If one container of spent nuclear fuel is broken, it will be a local accident in the plant and the surrounding area,” the top nuclear official said.
“If there are two or three containers, it will be much larger. It is impossible to assess the scale of this catastrophe.”
He described the International Atomic Energy Agency’s reaction to the situation at the site over the last five months as “sluggish”, but said there were signs that that was changing.
“Now there is movement in their position, and we hope that the situation will be taken under the control of international organisations,” he said.
Kotin said 500 Russian soldiers and 50 pieces of heavy machinery including tanks, trucks and armoured infantry vehicles were at the site.
The Ukrainian staff at the plant had nowhere to shelter, he said. Two people were wounded by shrapnel during the shelling and were in hospital.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Nick Macfie)