Zaporizhzhia: UN nuclear watchdog warns of ‘disaster’ at Ukrainian power plant as bombings continue

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, said he was alarmed by reports of damage and demanded that a team of IAEA experts be authorized to urgently to visit the plant, to assess and protect the site.

“I am extremely concerned by yesterday’s bombing of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which underscores the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi said in a statement Saturday.

“Military action jeopardizing the safety and security of the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs,” he added.

Kyiv accused Russian forces of stockpiling heavy weapons and launching attacks from the factory, which they retook in early March and still occupy. Moscow, meanwhile, claimed Ukrainian troops were targeting the compound.

Friday’s bombardment damaged a power line and forced one of the plant’s reactors to stop working, according to Ukrainian nuclear power operator Energoatom, which later said there was no damage. to the reactors themselves and that the radiation situation was normal.

Attacks on the plant continued into Saturday night, according to Energoatom, hitting various parts of the complex and injuring a Ukrainian employee. He said Russian forces and employees of Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom, who had been there since seizing the plant, took refuge in bunkers before the barrage began.

The rockets hit the site of the plant’s dry storage facility, where 174 containers of spent nuclear fuel are kept, and damaged three radiation monitoring detectors, making rapid detection and response to leaks of radioactive substances “currently impossible”, warned Energoatom.

“This time, a nuclear disaster has been miraculously averted, but miracles cannot last forever,” he added.

Although the security situation is stable and there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety, according to the IAEA, Grossi warned of the serious risk that further fighting at the site could pose. .

“Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would be tantamount to playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” Grossi said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his Saturday night address, again accused Russia of bombing the plant and using it to spread terror in Europe.

“Unfortunately, we have a significant worsening of the situation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Zelensky said. “Russian terrorists have become the first in the world to use a nuclear power plant for terrorist purposes. The largest in Europe!

Zelensky said on Sunday that he had spoken with European Council President Charles Michel

CNN was unable to verify claims of damage to the plant, which occupies a sprawling site. Ukrainian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the bombing.

“Irresponsible violation of nuclear safety rules”

The head of European Union diplomacy criticized Russian military activities around the Zaporizhzya power plant and called on the IAEA to gain access to the complex.

“This is a serious and irresponsible violation of nuclear safety rules and another example of Russia’s disregard for international standards,” he added. Joseph Borrellthe EU’s foreign policy chief, said on Twitter on Saturday.

Several Western and Ukrainian officials believe Russia is now using the giant nuclear facility as a stronghold to protect its troops and launch attacks, as they assume Kyiv will not retaliate and risk a crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Moscow of using the plant to protect its forces, while the UK Ministry of Defense said in a recent security assessment that Russia’s actions at the complex were sabotaging the security of its operations.

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The Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said in late July that Russian forces had been observed using 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 power plant”. plant.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine warned on Friday that further attacks on the factory could be disastrous.

“The possible consequences of an impact on an operating reactor are equivalent to the use of an atomic bomb,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Grossi called on all parties to “show the utmost restraint near this important nuclear facility, with its six reactors”.

“Ukrainian personnel operating the plant under Russian occupation must be able to carry out their important duties without threats or pressure, compromising not only their own safety but also that of the facility itself,” he said. -he adds.

The IAEA has tried to coordinate a mission of safeguards experts to visit the plant since it was seized by Russian forces.

“This mission would play a crucial role in helping to stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there, as we have done at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and elsewhere in Ukraine in recent months,” he said. he declares.

The IAEA sent teams Chernobyl nuclear power plant late April and May to deliver equipment and carry out radiological assessments of the site, which was held by Russian forces for more than a month before withdrawing at the end of March.

CNN’s Mariya Knight, Vasco Cotovio and Tim Lister contributed to this report.

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