An NPR analysis of security footage and photos following the attack on Europe's largest nuclear power plant shows that many of the plant's critical safety systems were in the field of Russian fire.



The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency flew to Turkey yesterday to meet with Russian and Ukrainian officials. His goal was to forge an agreement that would stop attacks on nuclear facilities in Ukraine. He came back empty-handed but vowed to keep trying.


RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: I'm aiming at having something relatively soon, relatively soon.

FADEL: The meetings came a week after Russian forces stormed Europe's largest nuclear power plant. And a new analysis from NPR shows that the battle was far more dangerous than previously reported. Joining me to discuss is NPR science and security correspondent Geoff Brumfiel. Hi, Geoff.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So tell us about this analysis. What did you find?

BRUMFIEL: Right. So the plant is the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. And remarkably, the entire attack by Russian forces, pretty much, was livestreamed on its YouTube channel.


BRUMFIEL: Someone put up over four hours of grainy security footage. So together with NPR's Meredith Rizzo, Alison Hurt and Tien Le and a researcher at the Centre for Information Resilience, a guy named Leone Hadavi, we pulled it apart to really try and find out the story of what happened that night. And what we discovered was not good. This firefight caused damage throughout the plant and put critical systems at risk. Basically, it was a lot worse than we thought.

FADEL: OK, explain that because I have to say when I heard attack on a nuclear power plant, that already sounded really bad, incredibly dangerous.

BRUMFIEL: Yeah. I mean, good point. You know, and the thing was that immediately after the attack, a lot of the focus was on this building next to the nuclear plant. It was a training center. And I think that kind of gave people the impression that the plant itself didn't take fire or didn't take much fire. But we identified at least six other locations that appeared to take damage. And these were all across the site, including near the reactors and other sensitive equipment. Some of the stuff - if it had been hit harder, it could have triggered a nuclear emergency or maybe even a meltdown.

FADEL: OK, that sounds terrifying. Give me an example of what other equipment you're referring to there.

BRUMFIEL: Sure. So a short video from the plant turned up on the social media platform Telegram the day after the attack. And it shows what could be a Russian shell on the ground in sort of this enclosed walkway site. Now, this walkway was about 250 feet, maybe a little less from the Unit 2 reactor. And on the other side is the facility that handles radioactive waste for the plant. Tom Bielefeld is a nuclear security expert. He told me that if that building had been struck, it could have potentially contaminated the entire facility.

TOM BIELEFED: The situation that we saw here could have gone wrong, much more wrong than it did.

BRUMFIEL: And these parts of the plant are the real problem. The reactors themselves are sealed away in these big, heavy metal containers that take a lot to damage them. But there are power lines, transformers, cooling systems, backup generators. I mean, the list goes on and on. They're critical to safety. They're vulnerable. Some of them did get hit that night. Fortunately, there was enough redundancy that it didn't matter. There was no meltdown, at least not this time.

FADEL: Not this time. So, Geoff, where does this go from here?

BRUMFIEL: Well, I think the point of doing this was to show this is a really dangerous situation, still. I mean, as you mentioned up there at the top, neither side is willing to back down. Ukraine relies on nuclear for half of its electricity, and it's planning to defend its remaining plants. And Russia, meanwhile, is continuing its advance. Its forces are now quite near another nuclear plant, the South Ukraine Nuclear Plant. And so unless these two sides can reach some sort of agreement, we may have a repeat of what happened at Zaporizhzhia. And this time, we might not be so lucky.

FADEL: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel, thank you so much for your reporting.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you.

FADEL: And you can see the footage for yourself on Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.