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Russian Forces Seize Huge Ukrainian Nuclear Plant, Fire Extinguished!

Russian Forces Seize Huge Ukrainian Nuclear Plant, Fire Extinguished!

LVIV, Ukraine, March 4 (Reuters) - Russian forces seized the largest nuclear power plant in Europe after a building at the complex was set ablaze during intense fighting with Ukrainian defenders, Ukrainian authorities said on Friday.

Fears of a potential nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia plant had spread alarm across world capitals before authorities said the fire in a building identified as a training center, had been extinguished.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels at the plant, which provides more than a fifth of Ukraine's total electricity generation.

An official at the state enterprise that runs Ukraine's four nuclear plants said there was no further fighting, the fire was out and Zaporizhzhia was operating normally

“(Nuclear power plant) personnel are on their working places providing normal operation of the station.”

Earlier, a video from the plant verified by Reuters showed one building aflame, and a volley of incoming shells, before a large candescent ball lit up the sky, exploding beside a car park and sending smoke billowing across the compound.

"Europeans, please wake up. Tell your politicians – Russian troops are shooting at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine," Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address.

Zelensky said Russian tanks had shot at the nuclear reactor plants, though there was no evidence cited that they had been hit.

The mayor of the nearby town of Energodar about 550 km (342 miles) southeast of Kyiv said fierce fighting and "continuous enemy shelling" had caused casualties in the area, without providing details.

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Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or wounded and more than 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Feb. 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.

Early reports of the fire and fighting at the power plant sent financial markets in Asia spiraling, with stocks tumbling and oil prices surging further.

"Markets are worried about nuclear fallout. The risk is that there is a miscalculation or over-reaction and the war prolongs," said Vasu Menon, executive director of investment strategy at OCBC Bank.

Russia had already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe when it melted down in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type, analysts said.

Earlier, U.S. President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson both spoke with Zelenskiy to get an update on the situation at the plant.

"President Biden joined President Zelenskiy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site," the White House said.

Johnson said Russian forces must immediately quit their attack and agreed with Zelenskiy that a ceasefire was crucial.

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"The prime minister said the reckless actions of President Putin could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe," Downing Street said.

Japan's top government spokesman described the Russian attack on the plant as "barbaric and unacceptable", and a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said his government called "on all sides to exercise restraint, avoid escalation and ensure the safety of relevant nuclear facilities."

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said he was "deeply concerned" by the situation at the nuclear plant, and that Ukrainian authorities had assured the IAEA that "essential" equipment was unaffected.

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