World 'narrowly avoided catastrophe' after Russia seized Europe's biggest nuclear plant

While much of Europe was asleep, a Russian shell hit the continent's biggest power plant, reports ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers

The world "narrowly avoided nuclear catastrophe" after Russian troops caused a large fire when they seized Europe's largest power plant in Ukraine.

World leaders have accused Russia of endangering the safety of an entire continent after carrying out the "reckless" attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, in the eastern city of Enerhodar.

At an emergency session of the UN Security Council, British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said this was the first time a state had attacked an active nuclear power plant and warned it should never happen again.

US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said we "narrowly avoided nuclear catastrophe" and warned Russian troops were 20 miles away from another plant.

The world has reacted with shock to the attack and it has triggered a flurry of diplomatic response in the UN

Ukraine's ambassador to the UN accused Russia of lying about its takeover of the plant and warned that thousands of people living nearby would be endangered if operations there are disturbed.

"Thousands of people, including civilians, who are currently unable to evacuate the area near the plant due to ongoing shelling and fighting, would be affected," Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the emergency meeting.

Three Ukrainian troops were killed and two wounded following the shelling, according to a Ukrainian state nuclear company.

While there was damage to the reactor compartment, the safety of the unit was not affected and there was no damage to “essential” equipment.

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on the latest attacks all across Ukraine

The shelling that sparked a fire on the plant's site raised fears of a disaster that could affect all of central Europe for decades, like the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.

Concerns faded after Ukrainian authorities announced the fire had been extinguished, radiation levels are normal and its six reactors appear to be in tact.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed the shelling hit the plant but that no radioactive material has been released.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, intense airstrikes in the northern city of Chernihiv killed 47 people, local authorities said on Friday.

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates discusses the latest struggles the Russian military has faced

A Ukrainian official also claimed they had so far killed three Russian commanders in the fighting.

They said he believed Russian commanders are having to go closer to the front "to get impetus and control over the slow progress" and are exposing themselves to greater personal risk.The most senior commander was Major General Andrey Sukhovetsky who was killed by sniper fire, with the other two being a divisional commander and a regimental commander.

Credit: Viktor Buchnev

On Friday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on European nations to support his country’s fight against the invading Russian military.

Mr Zelenskyy appeared on video as he addressed thousands of people protesting against the war in several European cities – naming among them Paris, Prague, Lyon, Frankfurt and others.

He asked the big crowds not to be silent about what is going on in his country.

“Don’t turn a blind eye on this,” he said. “Come out and support Ukraine as much as you can,” he said though a translator.

“If we fall, you will fall,” he said.

It follows an emotional speech in made overnight on Friday, Mr Zelenskyy said he feared an explosion that would be “the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe.”

“Only urgent action by Europe can stop the Russian troops,” he said.

“Do not allow the death of Europe from a catastrophe at a nuclear power station.”

Ukraine is heavily reliant on nuclear energy and has 15 reactors at four stations that provide about half the country's electricity.

At an emergency meeting of NATO and EU foreign ministers to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, the military alliance's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said the attack “just demonstrates the recklessness of this war and the importance of ending it".

Boris Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shortly after 3am, highlighting the concerns of world leaders over the attack on Zaporizhzhia, Political Reporter David Wood says

Downing Street called the situation in Zaporizhzhia “gravely concerning”.

The UK toughened up its sanctions against Russia on Friday.

The attack The Foreign Office said it would make it easier to slap sanctions on people and firms who have already been sanctioned by allies including the U.S., Canada and the European Union.on the nuclear plant came as Moscow's invasion entered its second week and another round of talks between Russia and Ukraine yielded a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid.

Earlier in the night, the Zaporizhzhia's spokesperson Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that firefighters could not get near the fire because they were being shot at.

Heavy artillery fire was seen in the city near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant Credit: Viktor Buchnev via AP

One major concern, raised by Ukraine's state nuclear regulator, is that if fighting interrupts power supply to the nuclear plant, it would be forced to use less-reliable diesel generators to provide emergency power to operating cooling systems.

A failure of those systems could lead to a disaster similar to that of Japan's Fukushima plant, when a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed cooling systems, triggering meltdowns in three reactors.

But most experts saw nothing to indicate an impending disaster.

Why has Russia invaded Ukraine and can Putin be stopped? Listen to the ITV News 'What You Need To Know' podcast

The IAEA said its Director General Mariano Grossi was in touch with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Schmygal and the Ukrainian regulator and operator about the situation.

In a tweet, the IAEA said Grossi “appeals for halt of use of force and warns of severe danger if reactors hit".

Jon Wolfsthal, who served during the Obama administration as the senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council, said the plant’s reactors have thick concrete containment domes that should protect them from tank and artillery fire.

But he too was concerned about a potential loss of power at the plant, which could imperil its ability to keep the nuclear fuel cool.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant - the largest in Europe Credit: Planet Labs PBC/AP
Strikes were seen shooting across the site of the plant Credit: Dmytro Kuleba/Zaporizhzhia NPP

Vladimir Putin’s forces have launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites around the country over the past week, and have made significant gains in the south.

The Russians announced the capture of the southern city of Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 280,000, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed the takeover of the government headquarters there, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago.

Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Azov Sea.

The battles have knocked out the city’s electricity, heat and water systems, as well as most phone service, officials said. Food deliveries to the city were also cut.

Serhii, father of teenager Iliya, cries on his son's lifeless body lying on a stretcher in a hospital in Mariupol. Credit: AP

Video from the port city showed the assault lighting up the darkening sky above deserted streets and medical teams treating civilians, including a 16-year-old boy inside a clinic who could not be saved.

The child was playing football when he was wounded in the shelling, according to his father, who cradled the boy’s head on the gurney and cried.

Severing Ukraine’s access to the Black and Azov seas would deal a crippling blow to its economy and allow Russia to build a land corridor to Crimea, seized by Moscow in 2014.

Senior International Correspondent John Irvine and his team film the moment Russian tanks turn their turrets on the last convoy out of Mariupol

Overall, the outnumbered, outgunned Ukrainians have put up stiff resistance, staving off the swift victory that Russia appeared to have expected.

The second round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations was held in neighbouring Belarus on Thursday. But the two sides appeared far apart going into the meeting, and Putin warned Ukraine that it must quickly accept the Kremlin’s demand for its “demilitarisation” and declare itself neutral, renouncing its bid to join Nato.

The two sides said that they tentatively agreed to allow cease-fires in areas designated safe corridors, and that they would seek to work out the necessary details quickly. A Zelenskyy adviser also said a third round of talks will be held early next week.