The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has warned that Russia is planning to simulate a major accident in Ukraine Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plantwhich is under the control of Russian forces, in an attempt to thwart the expected counterattack from Ukraine to regain its territories occupied by Moscow.

The Zaporizhye plant, located in a Russian-occupied region of southern Ukraine, is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and the area has been repeatedly bombed, with both sides blaming each other for the serious attacks.

Ahead of Ukraine’s expected counterattack, fears of a possible nuclear catastrophe grew amid increased military activity around Zaporizhia.

“The Russians are preparing for a massive provocation and imitation of the accident at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in the nearest hour,” the Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Friday.

They are planning to attack ZNPP territory [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant]. The Intelligence Directorate said in a statement, and later on social media, that they would then announce the leakage of radioactive materials.

The Directorate said that reports of radioactive materials leaking from the factory would lead to a global incident and force an investigation by international authorities, during which all hostilities would be halted. The intelligence service said Russia would then use this pause in the fighting to regroup its forces and better prepare to stop the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“It is clear that they will blame Ukraine,” the directorate said, adding that the aim of the attack would be to “provoke the international community” to investigate the incident and force them to stop fighting.

Experts say reports of a radioactive leak at the station would be followed by immediate evacuations, which could be very complicated in a war zone. According to experts, for many people, the fear of radiation contamination may also be more dangerous than the radiation itself.

Last week, witnesses said, Russian military forces beefed up their defensive positions in and around the nuclear power plant ahead of the long-awaited counterattack in Ukraine.

In preparation for the planned radiological accident, the Ukrainian intelligence department said, Russia disrupted the scheduled rotation of IAEA inspectors present at the station.

The report of a planned incident in Zaporizhia was echoed in a tweet by Ukraine’s representative to the United Nations in New York, Sergey Kislitsya, who said events could unfold “in the coming hours”.

The directorate’s statement provided no evidence to support its claims, and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which often posts updates on the situation at the power plant, did not mention any disruption to its schedule.

Kiev and Moscow repeatedly accused each other of attacking the plant.

Russia said in February that Ukraine was planning a nuclear attack on its soil, blaming Moscow.

Moscow has also repeatedly accused Kiev of planning “false” operations with unconventional weapons, using biological or radioactive materials.

No such attacks have happened yet.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi will brief the UN Security Council next week on the security situation in Zaporizhia and his plan for safeguards at the site. Grossi, who last visited the plant in March, has stepped up efforts to reach an agreement with Ukraine and Russia to ensure the plant is protected during the fighting.

“It’s very simple: don’t shoot at the factory and don’t use the factory as a military base,” Grossi said in a statement last week.

“It should be in everyone’s interest to agree on a set of principles to protect the factory during the conflict,” he added.

Zaporizhzhia once supplied nearly 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity and kept operating in the early months of the Russian invasion, despite frequent bombing, before shutting down all power production in September.

None of Ukraine’s six Soviet-era reactors have produced electricity since, but the Zaporizhia facility is still connected to Ukraine’s power grid for its own needs, in particular to cool the plant’s nuclear reactors.

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