A massive nuclear plant occupied by Russia during the invasion of Ukraine is “completely out of control”, the head of the UN nuclear agency said.
In an interview with the Associated Press news agency, Argentine Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that the plant in Zaporizhzhia, in southern Ukraine, needed inspection and repairs.
“There are a number of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility,” he said.
Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant is located dangerously close to the fighting.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia earlier this week of using the plant, raided in March, as a military base to launch attacks against Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine says the Russians station troops and store military equipment on the grounds of the plant, located on the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine.
But a Russian official working in the region told Reuters news agency that Ukrainian forces were using Western-supplied weapons to attack the plant.
According to Yevgeny Balitsky, Russia is ready to show the IAEA how it has been protecting the nuclear facility from Ukrainian attacks.
When the Russians took over the plant, the bombing of the facility caused an international outcry.
Photo of a Russian soldier at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant on Energodar taken in May 2022 — Photo: Andrey Borodulin/AFP via BBC
The plant is still operational, with Ukrainian employees under Russian control.
At a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, Grossi said: “The situation is very fragile. All nuclear safety principles have been violated in one way or another and we cannot allow this to continue.”
The IAEA director-general said he was trying to assemble a mission as soon as possible to visit the facility, but this required approval from the Ukrainian and Russian sides, as well as UN authorization, given the risks involved in visiting the war zone.
In June, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company said the country had not invited the UN agency, as any visit would legitimize Russia’s presence there.
This week, Grossi said he and his team needed protection to get to Zaporizhzhia — that is, from cooperation from Russia and Ukraine. “I am asking both sides to let this mission proceed,” he said.
The UN agency’s contacts with the facility’s staff have been “irregular” and the supply chain for equipment and spare parts is disrupted, Grossi explained to the AP. There was also a lot of nuclear material that needed to be inspected, he added.
“As long as this war continues, inaction is inconceivable,” he said. “If an accident occurs at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, we will not have a natural disaster to blame — we will only have to respond to ourselves. We need everyone’s support.”
Accusing the Russians of using the plant as a “nuclear shield”, Secretary Blinken said: “Of course the Ukrainians cannot fight back lest there be a terrible accident involving the nuclear plant.”
In 1986, northern Ukraine was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster when a reactor at the Chernobyl plant exploded.
Russian forces also took Chernobyl shortly after the invasion on February 24 this year, but withdrew after five weeks. Computers at the site were looted or damaged, but key structures at the decommissioned power plant were not affected.
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