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Russia planning to disconnect nuclear plant from power grid, Ukraine warns

Many workers at the Zaporizhzhia plant were ordered to stay home Friday, Kyiv said, amid growing fears of an attack.

Ukraine warned Russia might be planning an imminent attack at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant Friday that it would seek to blame on Kyiv.

Amid mounting fears of a disaster and with both sides alleging the other is planning "provocations," Ukraine‘s national energy company said that many staff members had been ordered to stay home and that Moscow wants to disconnect the plant from the power grid.

The Russian-occupied plant is the largest in Europe, with the two countries trading blame over who is responsible for attacks on the site in recent weeks. Concerns for the safety of the nuclear reactor have sparked growing international alarm and calls for a demilitarized zone around the site, which Russia has rejected.

Energoatom, the Ukrainian energy company, said early Friday that Russia is planning to switch off the power blocks at the Zaporizhzhia plant and disconnect them from Ukraine's power grid, which would deny the country a major energy source. It also said that the majority of staff members at the plant had been ordered to stay home, with only those who operate the power units allowed in.

"There is information that the Russian occupying forces are planning to stop working power units in the near future and disconnect them from the communication lines supplying power to the Ukrainian power system,” it said in a post on Telegram. The Russian military "is looking for suppliers of fuel for diesel generators, which must be turned on after the shutdown of power units and in the absence of external power supply for nuclear fuel cooling systems."

Energoatom did not cite any evidence to support its allegations.

On Thursday, Ukrainian military intelligence told NBC News that Russian staff members at the nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine had been told not to go to work Friday. This might be evidence that Russia is preparing “large-scale provocations” at the plant Friday, according to Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate.

Kyiv warned anew Friday that "the probability of a major act of terror at the nuclear facility is very high."

For its part, Russia said that defense systems of the plant have been strengthened due to what it said are fears of an attack on the facility by Ukraine’s military.

The comments were made by Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian administration that is in control of the occupied region and were reported by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Rogov, who represents the Russian-controlled area of Zaporizhzhia, also dismissed as "irresponsible" and "out of the question" calls for the Kremlin's troops to leave the plant and allow a demilitarized zone to be set up.

On Thursday, Russia threatened to shut down the plant, warning that there was a risk of a human-made disaster due to alleged continued shelling by Ukraine.

NBC News has not verified the claims of either side.

Image: UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT-WAR-NUCLEAR-HISTORY
Ukrainian emergency crews practiced nuclear incident drills in the city of Zaporizhzhia as tensions with Russia continued to build this week. Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP - Getty Images

Russia has refused to confirm or deny whether any personnel of its nuclear agency, Rosatom, are stationed at Zaporizhzhia.

Ukraine has accused Russia of installing military vehicles inside the facility and using it as a base to launch attacks on nearby areas, risking a potential catastrophe.

A video shared widely on social media in recent days appears to show Russian military vehicles stationed inside the plant. NBC News cannot verify when the video was filmed or by whom.

The situation at the plant was discussed in a phone call between French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on Friday, according to readouts of the call from both the Kremlin and the Elysee Palace.

Both said the leaders had noted the importance of sending a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the site as soon as possible.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who is visiting Ukraine, also called for all armed forces to leave the Zaporizhzhia power plant and warned that any damage to the facility would be "suicide."

Guterres met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in the city of Lviv to discuss how to secure the power plant and revive peace talks.

Guterres was in Odesa on Friday to inspect a recent agreement between Kyiv and Moscow on allowing the export of Ukrainian grain in a bid to ease the global hunger crisis.

He said that electricity generated at the Russian-held plant belonged to Ukraine and demanded that principle be fully respected.

Asked about the alleged Russian plans to divert power to the Russian power grid, Guterres told reporters that the plant should be demilitarized, according to Reuters.

“Obviously the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity and it’s necessary especially during the winter for the Ukrainian people. And this principle must be fully respected.”