• Intense fighting around a massive nuclear power plant
  • No sign of high radiation – US Energy Sec
  • US and UK hit oligarchs with new sanctions

LVIV, Ukraine, March 4 (Reuters) – Russian forces have seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant after a building at the complex burned down during intense fighting with Ukrainian defenders, Ukrainian authorities said on Friday.

Fears of a potential nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia power plant had caused alarm in world capitals, before authorities announced that the fire in a building identified as a training center had been extinguished.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there were no indications of high radiation levels at the plant, which supplies more than a fifth of Ukraine’s total electricity generation.

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An official from the state enterprise that runs Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants said there was no more fighting, the fire was out and Zaporizhzhia was operating normally.

“The personnel (of the nuclear power plant) are at their places of work and ensure the normal operation of the plant.”

Earlier video of the factory verified by Reuters showed a building in flames and a volley of incoming shells, before a large glowing ball lit up the sky, exploding next to a car park and sending up smoke spread throughout the enclosure.

“Europeans, please wake up. Tell your politicians that Russian troops are firing on a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address.

Zelenskiy said Russian tanks fired on the nuclear power plants, although there is no evidence they were hit.

The mayor of the nearby town of Energodar, about 550 km (342 miles) southeast of Kyiv, said fierce fighting and “continuous enemy shelling” had claimed casualties in the area, without providing details. .

Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or injured and more than a million refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the biggest attack on a European state since World War II.

Early reports of the fire and fighting at the power plant sent Asian financial markets soaring, with stocks tumbling and oil prices rising further.

“Markets are worried about nuclear fallout. The risk is that there is a miscalculation or an overreaction and the war drags on,” said Vasu Menon, executive director of investment strategy at OCBC Bank. .

Russia had already captured the former Chernobyl plant north of Kiev, which dumped radioactive waste over much of Europe when it melted down in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is of a different type and safer, analysts said.

Earlier, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson both spoke with Zelenskiy to get an update on the situation at the factory.

“President Biden joined President Zelenskiy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders access to the site,” the White House said.

Johnson said Russian forces must immediately cease their attack and agreed with Zelenskiy that a ceasefire was crucial.

“The Prime Minister has said that President Putin’s reckless actions could now pose a direct threat to the security of all of Europe,” Downing Street said.

Japan’s government spokesman called the Russian attack on the plant “barbaric and unacceptable”, and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said his government called on “all parties to exercise restraint, to avoid escalation and to ensure the security of the nuclear installations concerned”.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief says he is ‘deeply concerned’ by situation at nuclear power plant, and that Ukrainian authorities have assured IAEA that ‘essential’ equipment is not affected .

FIGHT AGAINST RABIES, SANCTIONS ARE GOING UP

On Thursday, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators agreed on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape and to deliver medicine and food to areas where the fighting was heaviest.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a temporary halt to fighting in some places was also possible.

The negotiators will meet again next week, the official Belarusian Belta news agency quoted Podolyak as saying.

Only one Ukrainian city, the southern port of Kherson, has fallen to Russian forces since the invasion began on February 24, but Russian forces continue to surround and attack other cities.

The southeastern port city of Mariupol has been surrounded by Russian forces and subjected to heavy strikes, Britain said in an intelligence update on Friday.

“Mariupol remains under Ukrainian control but has likely been surrounded by Russian forces,” the defense ministry said. “The city’s civilian infrastructure has been subjected to intense Russian strikes.”

The northeastern city of Kharkiv has been under attack since the start of the invasion, but the defenders hold out in the heavily bombarded city. Putin called Russia’s actions in Ukraine a “special operation” which is not designed to occupy territory but to overthrow the democratically elected government, destroy its neighbor’s military capabilities and capture what he considers to be dangerous nationalists.

Russia has denied targeting civilians. The UN human rights office said on Thursday it confirmed that 249 civilians had been killed and 553 injured in the first week of the conflict.

Although no major assault was launched on Kiev, the capital was shelled and Russian forces unleashed devastating firepower to break resistance in the outlying town of Borodyanka.

In Washington, a US defense official said Russian troops were still 25 km (16 miles) from downtown Kiev.

The United States and Britain announced sanctions on other Russian oligarchs on Thursday, following the EU measures, as they increased pressure on the Kremlin.

Other companies, including Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), footwear giant Nike and Swedish furniture company IKEA have closed or scaled back operations in Russia, with trade restrictions and supply constraints adding to political pressure. Read more

Russian human rights activist and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has called on Western countries to kick Russia out of global police agency Interpol and impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“Russia should be sent back to the Stone Age to ensure that the oil and gas industry and any other sensitive industry that is vital for the survival of the regime cannot function without Western technological support,” Kasparov said. .

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Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaus; Written by Costas Pitas and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Stephen Coates and Simon Cameron-Moore

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