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Russia has taken control of Chernobyl nuclear plant, says Ukrainian official

Ukraine conflict renews nuclear safety concerns
Ukraine conflict renews nuclear safety concerns 01:41

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country has lost control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after Ukrainian forces fought to defend it from Russian troops, according to reports.

The adviser, Myhailo Podolyak, was quoted by The Associated Press and other news agencies as saying that after a "senseless attack of the Russians… it is impossible to say that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe."

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also said it has been informed by Ukraine that "unidentified armed forces" have taken control of all plant facilities, with no casualties or destruction at the site. 

The agency is following the Ukraine situation with "grave concern" and is calling for "maximum restraint" to avoid actions that could put Ukraine's nuclear facilities at risk, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said on Thursday, according to a statement. The IAEA said it was told that Ukraine's operational nuclear power plants are operating securely and safely.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that the White House is "outraged" by what she said are "credible reports" that Russian troops are holding staff at the site hostage.

"This unlawful and dangerous hostage taking, which could upend the routine civil service efforts required to maintain and protect the nuclear waste facilities, is obviously incredibly alarming and greatly concerning," she said. "We condemn it and we request their release."

Zelensky warned earlier that Russian troops were attempting to seize the abandoned and sealed-up Chernobyl nuclear site, an effort he called "a declaration of war against the whole of Europe."

"Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated," he tweeted, hours after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine

The plant disaster in 1986 was the world's worst nuclear accident. An explosion and fires at the site — about 80 miles north of Ukraine's capital — sent radiation into the air, with large amounts carried over Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. 

Scores of people were evacuated from the area following the meltdown, and at least 32 people died because of the blast and its immediate aftermath. Roughly 11,000 cases of thyroid cancer may be linked to the disaster, according to a 2016 report from the World Health Organization. 

The plant has been decommissioned and a protective shelter covers the reactor to prevent radiation from leaking. The area around the reactor is off-limits to the public.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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