The United States government activated the Nuclear Incident Response Team in response to Russia’s attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine. However, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also revealed that the reactors at the facility are being “safely shut down.”
“I just spoke with Ukraine’s energy minister about the situation at the Zaphorizhizia nuclear plant,” Granholm tweeted on Thursday evening. “Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease.”
I just spoke with Ukraine’s energy minister about the situation at the Zaphorizhizia nuclear plant. Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease. 1/
— Secretary Jennifer Granholm (@SecGranholm) March 4, 2022
Granholm announced that the U.S. Department of Energy “has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team” while monitoring events alongside the White House, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
She added that “the plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down.”
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Nuclear Incident Response Team is activated “during disasters involving nuclear weapons, radiological incidents, or acts of nuclear terrorism.” NIRT has “specialized assets that perform support functions related to nuclear or radiological emergencies, radiation exposure, radiological assistance, and related activities.”
Following a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, U.S. President Joe Biden joined the Eastern European leader in “urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” according to a statement from the White House.
The fire was put out as Russians took control of the power plant.
It was later reported that a U.N. official noted that none of the plant’s nuclear reactors were hit.
“In the atttack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, the chief of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said a Russian ‘projectile’ hit a training center, not any of its six reactors,” the AP reported.
Biden also “spoke this evening with Under Secretary for Nuclear Security of the U.S. Department of Energy and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Jill Hruby to receive an update on the situation at the plant,” according to the statement. The president will continue to be briefed regularly.
On Thursday, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba announced that the “Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP” — the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. “Fire has already broke out. If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!”
The International Atomic Energy Agency also said on social media that they are “aware of reports of shelling” at Zaporizhzhia and are “in contact with Ukrainian authorities” about the situation.
The attack on the nuclear plant follows unsuccessful talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials. Although negotiators agreed to create “humanitarian corridors” to aid civilians attempting to leave Ukraine’s cities, Russian President Vladimir Putin “signaled that he is determined to continue the war,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
On Thursday, the Russian military continued its operations against residential areas in the cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv, while Russia carried out airstrikes against the capital city of Kyiv and sent warships toward the port city of Odessa.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a primary topic of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. “Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways,” the commander-in-chief proclaimed. “But he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met a wall of strength he never imagined.”
This article has been updated with additional information.