Nighttime artillery strikes pounded a town next to Europe’s biggest nuclear power station, as Ukraine’s national atomic energy agency Energoatom on Monday issued a new radiation warning in case the plant is ever hit.

The strikes reportedly by howitzers smashed into a residential neighborhood in Energodar, a town inhabited largely by technicians and service personnel working at the adjacent Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station (ZNPS).

Images from a region hit by the shells showed cratered streets, apartment buildings with shell splinter damage and smashed windows, and demolished parked cars, some on fire.

According to Russian Federation (RF)-associated news platforms, Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) artillery units firing from across the Dnipro River to the north were responsible for the strikes.

An announcement from the RF-loyal Energodar occupation authority said ten civilians were injured in the bombardment, two critically. At least 20 civilian vehicles were destroyed, the statement said.

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Ukraine’s national atomic energy agency Energoatom on Monday morning issued a warning showing thousands of square kilometers of territory in south-east Ukraine and south-west Russia under a potentially dangerous radioactive cloud, if combat activity broke protective structures containing one or more of the ZNPS’ six nuclear reactors.

Persons downwind from a radioactive cloud should seal themselves in their homes and wash themselves and food as frequently as possible, the advisory said. The Azov Sea north coast, both in Ukraine and Russia, would be particularly hard hit, the estimated showed.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Sunday evening speech taking place roughly at the same time as the shelling accused Moscow of launching false flag attacks on Energodar and the adjacent atomic energy plant. Ukrainian media, without providing evidence, widely repeated Zelensky’s claim RF forces fired on Energodar, a city they have occupied since early March.

Monday estimate of potential radiation spread in case of a critical breach in the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station. Source: Energoatom.

The Ukrainian leader claimed the Kremlin is stationing troops within the ZNPS station in a bid to stoke European fears of a nuclear power accident and demands particularly in Paris and Berlin, that Ukraine to capitulate to Russian surrender terms.

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Andriy Ermak, head of Zelensky’s Presidential administration, in Sunday evening television comments said the Kremlin was engaged in “nuclear blackmail”. In a Monday morning Twitter post Dmitro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, said: “Russian invaders turned Zaporizhzhya NPP into a military base putting the entire continent at risk.”

British Defense Intelligence estimates and independent satellite companies have confirmed the Ukrainian claims, in some cases spotting RF fighting vehicles parked less than 100 meters from on ZNPS reactor.

Dmitro Orlov, Energodar’s mayor-in-exile, in a Monday morning Telegram message accused RF forces of shelling the town in preparation for a planned visit to the ZNPS station by representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi has called both sides to allow the  agency to send a monitoring team to the ZNPS immediately, to determine the possible threat of radiation leak and recommend steps to prevent it.

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Both sides have said, effectively, they would support an IAEA visit were the other side to stop shooting at Energodar and the ZNPS station.

On Thursday following shelling of power transmission lines plant engineers switched the ZNPS off the grid for the first time in its history. It was back online Friday, plant officials said. The station territory was last shelled on Saturday.

The UAF senior command has repeatedly stated that it considers all RF military forces within range of Ukrainian weapons legitimate targets.

A reactor in the Chernobyl nuclear power station, in north Ukraine, went critical in 1986, causing the world’s worst atomic energy accident.

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