Ukrainian officials have urged the international community to force Russian troops to leave Europe’s biggest atomic power station, as Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of risking nuclear disaster by shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant that is near the frontline of their war.
Amid rising concern over the fate of the plant and its six reactors, Rafael Mariano Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the UN Security Council that there appeared to be no immediate threat to nuclear safety at the site, but that experts should travel to southeastern Ukraine as soon as possible to inspect the facility.
Russian troops seized the plant and surrounding area in March but it continues to be run by Ukrainian technicians, even as both sides blame each other for shelling that has damaged radiation sensors and power lines at the facility and injured at least one worker.
Ukrainian nuclear energy agency Energoatom said on Friday that the plant was now “operating at the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards”.
“Ukrainian staff at the station continue to work and make every effort to ensure nuclear and radiation safety, as well as dealing with the consequences of damage. The nuclear power plant is still occupied and controlled by the Russian military. Given that it is impossible to predict [their] actions, the threat to the station’s physical security remains,” the company added.
“Ukraine appeals to the world community to take urgent measures to make Russia leave the power plant and transfer control to our state, for the sake of the security of the whole world.”
Ukrainian interior minister Denys Monastyrski said there was now “no adequate control” over the plant because Russia was storing military vehicles, weapons and ammunition at the facility and did not allow local technicians to access all areas.
“All this is assessed as posing the highest level of threat… We have to prepare for every scenario,” he added, as his ministry said Ukrainian officials were discussing “various scenarios, including evacuation of the population of surrounding settlements.”
Vassily Nebenzia, Russian envoy to the UN, said Moscow’s troops were guarding the site to protect it from damage, and accused Ukraine of pushing the world “to the brink of nuclear catastrophe” that could be as big as the 1986 accident at Chernobyl, north of Kyiv.
“We believe it is justified for IAEA representatives to go to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as quickly as possible and possibly even before the end of August,” he added.
Mr Grossi said all key elements of nuclear safety “have been compromised if not entirely violated at one point or another during this crisis” at Zaporizhzhia, which he called “a serious hour, a grave hour”.
At the same time, he said that according to “the most recent information provided by Ukraine, IAEA experts have preliminarily assessed that there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of the shelling or other recent military actions. However, this could change at any moment.”