Russia and Ukraine open to IAEA visit after Zaporizhzhia attack


Diplomats sounded the alarm on Monday over reported bombings at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, urging Russian and Ukrainian forces to stop fighting and allow UN inspectors access at the site.

A series of explosions hit the plant on Friday, causing damage and partially disconnecting a reactor from the Ukrainian power grid, although no radioactive leaks were detected. Russian forces control the complex, which has six nuclear reactors and is the largest of its kind in Europe, but Ukrainian personnel still operate the plant.

UN chief António Guterres on Monday called any attack on a nuclear facility “suicidal” and demanded that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog , be allowed to enter Zaporizhzhia.

“Russia must immediately stop occupying the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and withdraw its military equipment,” the Polish Foreign Ministry said. on Twitter Monday.

Over the weekend, IAEA Director Rafael Grossi warned in a press release that the bombing raised the “very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond”.

UN watchdog warns of ‘nuclear disaster’ following bombing of Zaporizhzhia factory

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the explosions. Ukraine has accused Russia of using the plant as a shield for artillery and rocket fire, while Russia claims Ukraine launched its own strikes in the area.

Moscow said on Monday it would allow IAEA inspectors access to the site but offered no details on how that would facilitate a visit. Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear energy — its 15 operational reactors, including six in Zaporizhzhia, supply about half of the country’s electricity, according to the IAEA.

A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Oleg Nikolenko, also told The Washington Post that Kyiv supports a UN team to visit the nuclear site “as soon as possible”.

“We want the watchdog to come to the plant and check the status to check how the nuclear material is being used,” he said. “And we also want the organization to prepare a report on the nuclear security violations that Russia is committing in Zaporizhzhia.”

But experts say the area should first be demilitarized so monitors can enter safely.

“In the middle of a war zone, the IAEA would need the support of the UN Security Council and it would need military protection,” said Jon Wolfsthal, former senior director of arms control and non-proliferation in the National Security Council.

Ukraine was the site of a nuclear meltdown in 1986 that sent a radioactive cloud over Europe. The specter of the Chernobyl disaster looms amid the fighting around Zaporizhzhia.

“Our country lived through Chernobyl, and naturally each person and the country pay close attention to these issues,” Zaporizhzhia regional governor Oleksandr Starukh told state television, adding that “everything is more or less under control”.

But over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the international community to hold Russia accountable for the attack.

“No nation in the world can feel safe when a terrorist state fires at a nuclear power plant,” he said. “God forgives. If something irreparable happens, no one will stop the wind that will spread the radioactive contamination.

Jennifer Hassan, Adam Taylor, Kostiantyn Khudov and John Hudson contributed to this report.

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