Zelensky made this grave accusation during a video address shared by Ukrainian government channels on social media on Thursday, June 22. In his remarks, he claimed that Ukrainian intelligence forces had received information that Russian President Vladimir Putin could order his forces guarding the power plant to intentionally release radiation. (Related: Biowarfare incoming? Russia accuses US of planning to drop malaria-infested mosquitoes on Russian troops in Ukraine.)
Zelensky even claimed that he has already shared this information with partners all over the world, including in the United States, China, Brazil, India and the European Union.
Before the war, the six-reactor nuclear complex used to generate 40 to 42 billion kilowatt-hours of power annually, accounting for around 20 percent of the average annual electricity production in Ukraine and for almost 47 percent of electricity generated by Ukrainian nuclear power plants.
Quickly following the beginning of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine in February 2022, Russian Armed Forces units were able to take control of the nuclear complex and most of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast (region) and have been occupying it ever since. The nuclear plant's safety has continued to be a cause for concern for both sides of the conflict and for the international community throughout the war.
Potential problems with the plant resurfaced earlier this month when the Nova Kakhovka dam got destroyed, since the dam's reservoir supplies cooling water for the Zaporizhzhia plant.
In his video statement, Zelensky said: "Russia is considering the scenario of a terrorist act at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – a terrorist act with a release of radiation. They have prepared everything for this."
"Unfortunately, I have had to remind people more than once that radiation has no state borders," he added. "Whomever it will hit is deterred only by the direction of the wind."
Zelensky noted that such a catastrophic incident should not be treated as somehow similar to the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam that Kyiv claims Moscow blew up earlier this month and whose effects are contained within the nearby regions of Ukraine and Russian-occupied Crimea.
"The world has been warned, so the world can and must act," Zelensky concluded. He refused to divulge what evidence he is basing this accusation on.
"This is a very serious threat the scale of which cannot be predicted in advance," added Taras Tyschenko, the Ukrainian head of the local center for disease control and prevention in Zaporizhzhia. "We know the Russians can do this, we knew they could blow up the Nova Kakhovka dam and we know they could target the nuclear power plant."
"This incident will not be a local or even a national one, it is a global incident. It will have a significant impact on the environment not only in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, the [Dnieper River] region or in Ukraine as a whole," he added. "This will be an incident that can definitely affect all our neighboring countries, especially those that have access to the Black Sea."
This accusation also comes after Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of the military intelligence agency the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense, accused Russia of mining the cooling pool used to keep the reactors at the plant from overheating.
"If they disable it by blowing it up, there is a high probability that there will be significant problems," said Budanov.
The Russian government has dismissed all Ukrainian allegations as "another lie," noting that a team of nuclear inspectors sent by the United Nations had recently visited the plant and rated everything highly.
"This is another lie," said Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov during a press briefing held on the same day. "There have just been contacts with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] there, on the ground. A very high assessment from the IAEA. They saw everything – everything they wanted to see."
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi traveled to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant complex earlier this month with a team of nuclear inspectors to assess the safety of the facility. In a statement, he noted that the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam is forcing staff at the plant to explore "alternative ways of getting water" necessary for keeping the nuclear materials used in the facility from overheating.
Grossi added that the IAEA has increased its presence at the facility to be able to better monitor the complex's safety during the ongoing military conflict and Ukraine's much-hyped counteroffensive potentially gearing towards retaking the Zaporizhzhia Oblast and the nuclear plant.
"The nuclear safety and security situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is extremely fragile," said Grossi. "Now more than ever, all sides must fully adhere to the IAEA's basic principles designed to prevent a nuclear accident."
"We will intensify our efforts to help ensure nuclear safety and security, while also providing assistance to the affected region in other ways," Grossi concluded.
Learn more about the nuclear threats burgeoning over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine at Nuclear.news.
Watch this clip of Zelensky on mainstream media claiming that Russia wants to target the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.