US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday called Russia's actions around Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant “the height of irresponsibility,” accusing Moscow of using it as a “nuclear shield” in attacks on Ukrainian forces.
Russia was previously accused of firing shells dangerously close to the Zaporizhzhia plant in March as its forces took it over in the first weeks of the invasion of Ukraine.
Washington was “deeply concerned” that Moscow was now using the plant as a military base and firing on Ukrainian forces from around it, Blinken told reporters after nuclear nonproliferation talks at the United Nations in New York.
“Of course the Ukrainians cannot fire back lest there be a terrible accident involving the nuclear plant,” he said.
Russia's actions went beyond using a “human shield” Blinken said, calling it a “nuclear shield.”
The Russian mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Blinken's remarks.
Ukrainian officials have previously accused Moscow of basing troops and storing military equipment on the grounds of the power station.
At the talks on Monday, Ukraine's deputy foreign affairs minister Mykola Tochytskyi said “robust joint actions are needed to prevent nuclear disaster” and called for the international community to “close the sky” over Ukraine's nuclear power plants with air defense systems.
On July 20 Russia accused Ukraine of firing two drones at Zaporizhzhia, which is also the largest nuclear plant in Europe, but said the reactor was undamaged.
At a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Friday, Russia's deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy accused his Western counterparts of “deliberately” ignoring the July 20 attack and use of “explosive-laden drones of foreign manufacture to attack the plant.”
Ukraine's state nuclear company Energoatom did not comment on the purported drone impact.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's atomic watchdog, should be given access to the plant, Blinken said.
“While this war rages on, inaction is unconscionable,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said on Twitter. “If an accident occurs at #Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in #Ukraine we will not have a natural disaster to blame. We will have only ourselves to answer to.”