Ukrainian nuclear plant facing ‘grave hour,’ UN watchdog says | CNN

United Nations

The “horrific” situation at a Russian-held nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine has reached a “critical hour,” the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Thursday, as he called for an immediate inspection of the facility by international experts.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned that parts of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant had been knocked out in recent attacks, posing an “unacceptable” potential radiation leak.

“IAEA experts believe there is no immediate threat to nuclear security,” but “that could change at any moment,” Grossi said.

“Any military action that threatens the safety of nuclear weapons, nuclear safety, must be stopped immediately,” he added. “These military actions near such a large nuclear facility could have serious consequences.”

The Zaporizhia facility – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – occupies a sprawling site on the Dnipro River near the Russian-occupied city of Enrhodar. It has been operating at reduced capacity since Russian forces seized it in early March, with Ukrainian technicians remaining on the job.

Russia and Ukraine have so far been unwilling to agree to an IAEA inspection of the plant and have accused each other of firing on the facility – a violation the IAEA says of “indispensable nuclear safety and security pillars”.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Thursday blamed Ukraine for the shooting and called on Kiev’s supporters to stop the attacks and prevent a devastating radiation leak.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pointed the finger at Moscow, which he said threatened all of Europe.

“Only the complete withdrawal of the Russians from the territory of the Zaporizhia NPP and the restoration of Ukraine’s full control over the situation surrounding the plant will guarantee the restoration of nuclear security for all of Europe,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom said 10 shells approached the complex on Thursday, preventing a shift handover.

“For the safety of nuclear workers, buses with the next shift’s staff were diverted back to Enrhöder,” the agency said. “Until the situation finally normalizes, workers from previous shifts will continue to work.”

Energoatom said radiation levels at the site remained normal despite the new attacks.

Many Western and Ukrainian officials believe that Russia is using the massive nuclear facility as a bastion to protect its forces and launch attacks, hoping that Kyiv will not rekindle and risk a crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Moscow of using the plant to shield its forces, while a recent security assessment by Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia’s actions at the complex put the security of its operations at risk.

Dmytro Orlov, the Ukrainian mayor of Enrhodar, said in late July that he had seen Russian forces use heavy weapons near the plant because “they know very well that the Ukrainian armed forces will not respond to these attacks, because they can damage the nuclear plant.”

The US backed calls for a demilitarized zone around the Ukrainian facility on Thursday, while at the UN, US Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Affairs Bonnie Jenkins said Russia was responsible for the “nuclear risk” at the plant.

She warned the UN Security Council that “many of the consequences of this conflict, including the situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, will only end when Russia ends the war.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – who had previously fired on the plant “suicide” – said in a statement Thursday that he was “gravely concerned.”

“We must make it clear that any potential damage to Zaporizhia or any other nuclear facilities in Ukraine or anywhere else could have devastating consequences not only for the immediate area, but for the region and beyond,” he said.

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