International nuclear safety experts were on Tuesday preparing to visit Ukraine amid Kremlin allegations that the country could detonate a “dirty bomb”, and more power cuts darkened Ukrainian cities as heavy fighting continued in partly occupied eastern and southern regions.
Western states have dismissed Moscow’s claim that Kyiv could explode a bomb laced with radioactive material and blame Russia for the incident, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that their stance was “unacceptable against the background of the seriousness of the danger we are talking about ... Once again, we emphasise the great danger that lies in the implementation of Ukraine’s plans related to a dirty bomb.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its inspectors were preparing to visit two Ukrainian nuclear sites cited by Russia “in the coming days. The purpose of the safeguard visits is to detect any possible undeclared nuclear activities and material”.
“The IAEA inspected one of these locations one month ago and all our findings were consistent with Ukraine’s safeguards declarations,” said the IAEA’s director general Rafael Grossi. “No undeclared nuclear activities or material were found there.”
The IAEA was invited to Ukraine this week by the country’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, who said on Twitter that the inspectors “are expected to arrive shortly and prove Ukraine has neither any dirty bombs nor plans to develop them. Good co-operation with IAEA and partners allows us to foil Russia’s ‘dirty bomb’ disinfo campaign.”
Russian diplomats said they would air their allegations at a closed meeting of the United Nations security council on Tuesday, as Kyiv warned that the dirty bomb claims may indicate that Moscow is planning such an incident as a pretext to escalate attacks on Ukraine.
Ukrainian atomic power operator Energoatom said Russian troops who have occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station were doing “unauthorised” building work near one of its spent fuel storage facilities, and that “Ukrainian personnel and the IAEA representatives present at the [plant] are not allowed to the construction site.”
Energoatom said the work, coupled with Moscow’s dirty bomb allegations, made it suspect that Russia may be “preparing a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at [Zaporizhzhia] site,” which is Europe’s biggest atomic power plant.
Neither Ukraine nor Russia have provided evidence for their dirty bomb claims or for accusations they have traded over each other’s alleged plans to blow up a major dam on the Dnieper river in the southeastern Kherson region, where Kyiv’s forces are counter-attacking.
Occupation authorities in Kherson have urged all civilians to evacuate from the western to the eastern bank of the Dnieper, but insist Russia is not planning to relinquish the area. Moscow says its forces are repelling attacks in a region where Ukraine says it has recaptured dozens of settlements in recent weeks.
Ukraine’s power firms said planned blackouts would continue across the country to ease the load on the national grid and allow for repairs after waves of Russian missile and drone strikes on critical infrastructure, which have prompted western allies to pledge more air defence systems to the country.
“My message to the Ukrainians is: Not only do we stand by your side, but we will continue to support Ukraine economically, politically and also militarily,” German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday after arriving in Kyiv by rail.
“What matters now is that we help to protect the Ukrainians from air attacks as much as possible,” he added, having been welcomed to his train carriage with a bunch of irises — a reference to the Iris-T air defence system that Berlin recently delivered to Kyiv.