Chernobyl on brink of new nuclear accident as terrified staff 'kept at gunpoint' by Russian soldiers

The physically, morally and psychologically exhausted staff are struggling to maintain plant operations

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Warnings that Chernobyl is on the brink of a new nuclear accident have been issued as staff have reportedly reached breaking point.

Yuri Fomichev, Mayor of Slavutych, has issued a warning that physically, morally and psychologically exhausted staff are unable to maintain operations of the besieged plant.

"A complete catastrophe” is looming, he said.

Mr Fomichev conveyed his grave concerns through text messages to the Daily Mail’s Ian Birrell, as he claimed Russian troops are regularly holding staff at gunpoint.

In the messages he made a plea for a "humanitarian corridor" that will allow staff, who need to monitor radiation levels, to be replaced.

The 103 staff stranded at Chernobyl should be replaced every 24 hours, Yevhen Kramarenko, head of the Ukrainian agency managing the Exclusion Zone has said.

A satellite image shows an overview of Chernobyl, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine,
A satellite image shows an overview of Chernobyl, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine,
Researchers measuring radiation levels at the Chernobyl nuclear power station
Researchers measuring radiation levels at the Chernobyl nuclear power station

The mayor continued to say that fuel shortages also pose a significant threat to the stability of the nuclear site.

He said: “All safety systems are supported on generators, which are running out of fuel. If the cooling systems stop, even for a while, we will get yet another Fukushima."

Fukushima refers to the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster where an earthquake disabled the plant’s power supply.

A Ukrainian national emergency services agency gave a similar warning last week, when the main electric supply to Chernobyl was temporarily cut off.

They said if the cooling system breaks down, it could cause the creation of a "radioactive cloud" that would blow over "other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Europe."

Russia was blamed for last week's power outage and Vladimir Putin claimed the power supply cable had been restored by a team of engineers.

Ukraine's energy minister Herman Galushchenko has said: "A nuclear war can start even without launching nuclear missiles. If this happens, the whole of Europe will be forced to hide in shelters, trying to escape the radiation."

"The last data we received showed an increase of 20 times the amount in radiation levels," said Mr Kramarenko.

Chernobyl was taken over by Putin’s military forces on the first day of his invasion. The site is infamous for causing the worst nuclear disaster in history.

The reactor at the plant exploded in April 1986 during a test, covering much of Europe in a radioactive cloud.

31 people died as an immediate result of the explosion and in 2005 the UN predicted a further 4,000 might eventually die as a result of radiation exposure.