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Russian vehicles seen inside turbine hall at Ukraine nuclear plant

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By Paul P. Murphy, Tim Lister and Rob Picheta, CNN

New video has emerged online showing Russian military vehicles inside a turbine hall connected to a nuclear reactor at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where intensified shelling has fueled fears of a nuclear disaster.

CNN has geolocated and confirmed the authenticity of the video, which began circulating on social media Thursday. It’s unclear when the video was taken.

The footage shows one of the six turbine rooms located on the western side of the nuclear plant, located in the southeastern city of Enerhodar. Each turbine hall is connected and built into a large building that houses a nuclear reactor.

The vehicles, which appear to be standard Russian military trucks, are sitting in the far western edge of the building on the ground floor, just over 400 feet (130 meters) from the reactor.

At least five vehicles — with one clearly marked with the pro-war symbol “Z” — are seen in the video, with at least two tent-like structures nearby. There are a number of assorted pallets near the vehicles.

It’s unclear from the video whether the pallets and tent-like structures are part of the Russian military or are related to power plant operations.

Moscow has previously said the only military equipment at the plant is related to guard duties. On Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that satellite imagery, “shows that weapons, especially heavy ones, are not placed on the territory of this station.”

CNN reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment on what is inside and around the military vehicles in the turbine room, but did not immediately receive a response.

Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of threatening nuclear terrorism, particularly around the plant.

Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russian forces of storing heavy weaponry inside the complex and using it as cover to launch attacks, knowing that Ukraine can’t return fire without risking hitting one of the plant’s reactors. Moscow, meanwhile, has claimed Ukrainian troops are targeting the site.

On Monday, the chairman of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company, Petro Kotin, said Russia was storing 14 “units of heavy military equipment” in the “first power unit” and “six vehicles” in the “second engine room.”

Russian military vehicles have been absent from the plant since July 24, according to satellite imagery of the complex provided to CNN by Planet Labs.

It’s unclear whether the Russian military trucks are being stored inside the turbine room or if they are using it as cover after a Ukrainian military strike on July 19. The strike targeted Russian military personnel in three tents just under 1,000 feet (more than 300 meters) from one of the nuclear reactors.

Fears of nuclear calamity

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, has been under Russian control since March.

Attacks at the complex, which have ramped up as fighting flares in Ukraine’s south, have sparked concerns about the specter of nuclear disaster, leading the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog and world leaders to demand that a mission be allowed to visit the site and assess the damage.

But nuclear experts are keen to defuse some of the more alarmist warnings, explaining that the main threat is closest to the plant itself and doesn’t justify Europe-wide alerts. Experts are particularly wary of any comparisons to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster — the worst nuclear accident ever — a repeat of which is incredibly unlikely, they said.

Shellfire at the plant in recent weeks has damaged a dry storage facility — where casks of spent nuclear fuel are kept — as well as radiation monitoring detectors, according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power company.

On August 5, several explosions near the electrical switchboard caused a power shutdown and one reactor was disconnected from the electrical grid, according to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi last week told the UN Security Council the situation had deteriorated “to the point of being very alarming.”

Speaking in the western city of Lviv on Thursday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for the area around the plant to be “demilitarized” and said an agreement was urgently needed to “re-establish Zaporizhzhia as purely civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the area.”

“We must tell it like it is — any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” Guterres said.

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