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Ukrainian authorities say the last two operating reactors at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant have been shut down due to fires and damaged power lines, raising fears of a potential accident as the facility is temporarily disconnected from the power grid Ukrainian for the first time.

The August 25 announcement by state energy operator Enerhoatom came as foreign officials warned of a potential catastrophe and continue to push Russian and Ukrainian forces to do more to protect the world’s largest nuclear power plant. ‘Europe.

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Russia has controlled the facility for about two weeks after invading Ukraine on February 24, but allowed Ukrainian engineers to stay and operate the plant, whose first reactor entered service in 1985.

Fighting near the plant between Russian and Ukrainian forces fueled fears of a crash. Ukrainian officials have also warned that Russia may try to disconnect the plant from the grid, a move that would put a strain on Ukraine’s struggling economy, especially as winter approaches. The plant supplied more than 20% of Ukraine’s electricity needs before the war.

“The actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection from the [facility] from the power grid – the first in the plant’s history,” Enerhoatom said in a post on Telegram.

Disconnecting the plant is considered potentially dangerous because a failure of the emergency power systems could lead to loss of coolant and result in fuel meltdown in the reactor core.

In a later statement, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Ukrainian authorities had informed it that the last regular power line supplying the plant with electricity was working again after being cut off earlier.

The power line apparently affected is different from the one supplying the reactor cooling systems. A loss of power in these feeders is a major concern for experts who are closely monitoring the situation at the plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later said the diesel generators ignited during the power outage, preventing any prolonged power outages.

The fact that some of the piles of radioactive ash on the factory grounds were set on fire by bombing, sending potentially radioactive smoke and dust into the air, adds to the concern. Ukraine’s military intelligence agency charged on August 23 Russia deliberately hitting the ash heaps and said the smoke was heading towards the nearby town of Enerhodar.

New satellite images taken on August 24 and obtained exclusively by Schemes, an investigative unit of the Ukrainian service of RFE/RL, showed plumes of smoke drifting over the territory of the factory.

Enerhoatom’s announcement came the same day the IAEA chief said Kyiv and Moscow both agree that staff from the UN watchdog should go and inspect the situation in Zaporizhzhya.

Speaking to France 24 television on August 25, Rafael Grossi said talks over access to the facility were progressing and that “we are very, very close” to an agreement on a visit.

The Zaporizhzhya plant has six Soviet-designed reactors, but only two remained in operation amid the fighting.

“Russia should accept the demilitarized zone around the plant and agree to allow a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency as soon as possible to verify the safety and security of the system,” the gate told reporters. -speaker of the White House, Karine Jean-Pierre, on August 25.

The White House also said President Joe Biden spoke with Zelenskiy on August 25, congratulating the country on the 31st anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union and reaffirming “the United States’ continued support for Ukraine.” “.

As the Russian invasion entered its seventh month, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree increasing the size of the country’s armed forces by 13%, or 137,000 soldiers, to 1.15 million.

There was no immediate explanation of the reason for the decree, which will come into effect on January 1, and the decree did not specify whether the increase would be accomplished by expanding the project, recruiting more volunteers , or both.

The move will bring the total Russian armed forces to 2.04 million, including 1.15 million soldiers.

Western and Ukrainian officials said Russia had suffered significant losses in the Ukraine conflict and was struggling to replace its personnel. A senior US official said earlier this month that between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian troops had been killed or injured since February 24.

The death toll from a Russian rocket attack on a train station in the southern Dnipropetrovsk region on August 24 has risen to 25 people. Deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office Kyrylo Tymoshenko also said at least 31 people were injured in the attack on Chaplyne station.

The attack occurred not only on Ukraine’s Independence Day, but also six months after the start of the Russian invasion.

The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged the strike on Chaplyne station, but said it had targeted a Ukrainian train that was transporting ammunition to the front line.

Earlier on August 25, Russian forces bombarded the central city of Kryviy Rih with cluster munitions, local military administration chief Oleksandr Vilkul said on Telegram, adding that so far no victim or damage had not been reported.

Cluster munitions have been banned by most countries due to their devastating and indiscriminate effect on military personnel and civilians.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released Aug. 25 that Russia has used cluster munitions extensively since invading Ukraine, while Ukrainian forces appear to have used them at least three times during the war.

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Cluster munitions, which can be fired by artillery and rockets or dropped by aircraft, open up in the air, spreading numerous bombs or cluster munitions over a wide area.

Since many bombs do not initially explode, they can maim and indiscriminately kill military personnel and civilians, including children.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine are parties to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions which bans this type of ammunition and has so far been ratified by 110 countries and signed by 13 others.

“Russia’s widespread use of cluster munitions in Ukraine is a sobering reminder of what the Convention must overcome if it is to succeed in ending the human suffering caused by these indiscriminate weapons,” said Mary Wareham, advocacy director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch. .

“All countries must condemn the use of these weapons in all circumstances,” she added.

With reporting from Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN and dpa

Cathy W. Howerton