Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine remains a “serious threat”.
Citing Ukrainian intelligence, the country’s president said Russia was “technically ready” to provoke a localised explosion at the facility.
Throughout the war nuclear experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of the plant, which Russia seized control of last March, due to shelling near and around it.
Ukrainian military intelligence previously said Moscow’s troops had mined Europe’s largest nuclear plant and claimed yesterday that the number of Russian personnel is gradually being reduced.
Mr Zelenskyy said: “There is a serious threat because Russia is technically ready to provoke a local explosion at the station, which could lead to a (radiation) release”, in a news conference in Kyiv with Spain’s prime minister.
He gave no further details and so far, Moscow has not commented on reports of the apparent drawdown at the plant.
Ukraine’s GUR claimed that Russian forces are “gradually leaving the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant”.
Among the first reported to have left were three staff from Russian state nuclear firm Rosatom who were “in charge of the Russians’ activities”.
Special Russian military units guard the facility and a unit of Rosatom runs the plant.
Both sides have accused each other of shelling near the plant, amid ongoing fears about a potential disaster at the facility, which is just 500km from the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
On Friday, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said its experts have “so far found no visible indications of mines or other explosives currently planted” at the plant.
It said its aware of reports that mines and other explosives have been placed in and around the plant – including mines near the cooling pond.
However, director general Rafael Mariano Grossi added that experts still need additional access to carry out further such checks at the site.
Ukrainian intelligence alleges Moscow approved a plan to blow up plant – would Moscow risk it?
There have been widespread reports that the Russians were mining several key areas inside the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.
The concern here is that Russia has a track record of leaving a trail of devastation in its wake, as they did with the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam.
But, it looks very unlikely that Russia would look to destroy the nuclear plant itself. This would have long-term consequences.
Most analysts believe that Vladimir Putin retains long-term imperialist ambitions, and although progress of his military forces in Ukraine has been limited so far, he will have his eye on the long game.
Destroying the nuclear plant would devastate a huge area for generations to come and would not be a desirable outcome.
More likely is that the Russians could be planning to destroy or damage large areas of vital infrastructure at the nuclear plant to create a major distraction for the oncoming Ukrainian forces.
This would raise the spectre of nuclear disaster, and perhaps buy Russian forces time.
Sky News previously spoke to two workers at the plant who warned the consequences of a catastrophe could cause devastation across much of Europe, Russia and the Mediterranean.
The IAEA said its experts were able to inspect parts of the plant’s cooling system, including some sections of the perimeter of the large cooling pond and the isolation gate of the discharge channel of the nearby Zaporizhzhya Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP).
It said both this channel and the cooling pond hold reserves of water that remain available for use by the nuclear plant despite the recent destruction of the downstream Kakhovka Dam.
The biggest nuclear risk at the plant is from overheating nuclear fuel, which could happen if the power that drives the cooling systems is cut or if there is not enough water to supply the cooling systems. Shelling has repeatedly cut power lines.