Ukraine calls for peacekeepers to guard atomic power plant after shelling

Moscow says it’s willing to let monitors visit Russian-occupied nuclear site

Ukraine’s nuclear agency has called for the biggest atomic power station in Europe to become a demilitarised zone guarded by peacekeepers, after the United Nations secretary general described recent shelling at the Russian-occupied site as “suicidal”.

Moscow and Kyiv blame each other for artillery strikes that damaged radiation sensors, knocked out power lines and injured at least one worker at the Zaporizhzhia plant in partly occupied southeastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian technicians are still running the plant, which has six nuclear reactors, but it is under the control of Russian troops who Kyiv accuses of mining the site and using at least two of its turbine halls to store armoured vehicles, weapons and ammunition.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has warned of “the very real risk of a nuclear disaster” at the plant, and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said he supported the agency’s call for an inspection mission to be allowed to visit the site to check its safety.


“Any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing. I hope that those attacks will end, and at the same time I hope that the IAEA will be able to access the plant,” he said.

Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power firm Energoatom, called on “the international community and all our partners … to remove the invaders from the territory of the station and create a demilitarised zone”.

“Since the beginning of the occupation we’ve been saying that а security mission of peacekeepers should be present there, including IAEA experts and other security organisations. The presence of peacekeepers in this zone – and giving them control of the plant first and then giving back control to the Ukrainian side – would have solved the problem,” he told Ukrainian television on Monday.

In reference to major nuclear disasters in the Soviet republic of Ukraine in 1986 and in Japan in 2011, Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine’s envoy to the IAEA, said that in the event of a major explosion, “what will happen in the radius of 40-50 kilometres from the station, that’s absolutely not comparable even to Chernobyl or to Fukushima”.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said “we continue to call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities and return full control to Ukraine”.

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to the Vienna-based IAEA, said his delegation was “ready to assist the IAEA leadership in organising a visit” to the Zaporizhzhia plant and wanted the agency to have “information on the criminal actions of Kyiv” in relation to the site.

Moscow-appointed officials in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia region announced plans on Monday to hold a referendum on its “reunification” with Russia.

They did not name any date for the event, but Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said any such “pseudo-referendum” arranged by Moscow and its local collaborators “would close off any possibility of negotiations with Ukraine and the free world, which the Russian side will definitely need at some point”.

Fighting continued in eastern and southern Ukraine, and two more ships loaded with grain left the country’s Black Sea ports under a deal to end a five-month Russian naval blockade.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe