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Russia seizes Ukrainian director of nuclear plant

A general view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is part of Ukrainian territory that Russia has illegally annexed.
(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
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Russian forces blindfolded and detained the Ukrainian head of Europe’s largest nuclear station, Ukraine’s nuclear power provider said Saturday, reigniting long-simmering fears over the plant’s security.

The alleged kidnapping Friday apparently took place shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated his war in Ukraine and pushed it into a new, dangerous phase by illegally annexing four Ukrainian regions that Moscow fully or partially controls and heightening threats of nuclear military strikes.

In a possible attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory, Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said.

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Putin on Friday signed treaties to absorb the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, including the area around the nuclear plant.

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Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and took him to an undisclosed location.

“His detention by [Russia] jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin, demanding
the director’s immediate release.

Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday that Russia had told it that “the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was temporarily detained to answer questions.”

The Vienna-based IAEA did not elaborate.

The power plant repeatedly has been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian technicians continued running the plant after Russian troops seized it. Its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure, as constant shelling nearby damaged electric transmission lines to the plant.

The plant is a strategic trophy for Russia and has triggered worldwide concern as the only nuclear plant caught up in modern warfare. Active fighting nearby means it’s unlikely to start producing electricity again soon, even if Russia installs its own management.

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The plant is like a town unto itself, with some 11,000 workers before the war. Though many have fled amid the fighting, others have stayed to ensure the safety of its radioactive material and structures.

Energoatom spokespeople told the Associated Press on Saturday that plant employees are being forced to submit applications to report to Rosatom, Russia’s state-run nuclear energy giant that operates the country’s nuclear plants.

Murashov was against handing the Zaporizhzhia plant over to Rosatom, but Energoatom’s spokespeople couldn’t confirm if this was the reason for his detention.

Murashov had access to security codes, coordinated the work at the plant, made sure protocols were being followed and reported to Kyiv, according to Energoatom spokespeople. Ukrainian authorities appointed him to run the plant several days before Russian troops rolled into the country.

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Nevertheless, Energoatom hasn’t lost connections with the plant, it says, and all important parameters of its work are being reported to Kyiv.

Gambrell reported from Kyiv and Karmanau from Tallinn, Estonia.

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