A fire broke out in a training building outside the largest nuclear power plant in Europe during intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, Ukraine’s state emergency service said on Friday.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which provides more than a fifth of total electricity generated in Ukraine.
There has been fierce fighting in the area about 550 km (342 miles) southeast of Kyiv, the mayor of the nearby town of Energodar said in an online post. He said there had been casualties, without giving details.
“As a result of continuous enemy shelling of buildings and units of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire,” Mayor Dmytro Orlov said on his Telegram channel.
Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, about 100 km north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe when it melted down in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type, some analysts said.
Early reports of the incident at the power plant sent financial markets in Asia spiralling, with stocks tumbling and oil prices surging further.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy to get an update on the situation at the plant.
“President Biden joined President Zelenskiy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” the White House said.
Energy Secretary Granholm said on Twitter that the reactors at Zaporizhzhia were “protected by robust containment structures” and were being “safely shut down”.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russian army was “firing from all sides” on the plant.
“Fire has already broke out … Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!” he wrote on Twitter.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a tweet that it was “aware of reports of shelling” at the power plant and was in contact with Ukrainian authorities.
As the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two enters its ninth day, thousands are thought to have died or been wounded, 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine and Russia’s economy has been rocked by international sanctions.
The United States and Britain announced sanctions on more Russian oligarchs on Thursday, following on from EU measures, as they ratcheted up the pressure on the Kremlin.
More companies including Alphabet Inc’s Google, footwear giant Nike and Swedish home furnishing firm IKEA shut down or reduced operations in Russia as trade restrictions and supply constraints added to political pressure.
Sanctions have “had a profound impact already,” Biden said.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that is not designed to occupy territory but to topple the democratically elected government, destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists. It denies targeting civilians.