Zaporizhzhya: UN nuclear watchdog warns of ‘disaster’ at Ukrainian power plant as shelling continues

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi said he was alarmed by the reports of damage and demanded that an IAEA team of experts be urgently cleared to visit the plant to explore the site. assess and secure.

“I am extremely concerned about yesterday’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, underscoring 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 on Saturday. .

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

Kiev has accused Russian troops of stockpiling heavy weapons and launching attacks from the factory, which they took over in early March and are still occupying. Moscow, meanwhile, has claimed that Ukrainian troops are targeting the complex.

Shelling on Friday damaged a power line and forced one of the plant’s reactors to stop working, according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power plant, which later said there was no damage to the reactors themselves and that the radiation situation was normal. used to be.

According to Energoatom, the attacks on the factory continued Saturday night, hitting several parts of the complex and injuring a Ukrainian worker. It alleged that Russian troops and employees of Russia’s state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom, who had been on the scene since they seized the plant, sought shelter in bunkers before the barrage began.

The missiles hit the site of the plant’s dry storage facility, which stores 174 containers of spent nuclear fuel, and damaged three radiation monitoring detectors, making timely detection and response to leaking radioactive materials “currently impossible,” Energoatom warned.

“This time a nuclear disaster was miraculously avoided, but miracles cannot last forever,” it added.

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

“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 late-night speech on Saturday again accused Russia of shelling the factory and using it to sow terror in Europe.

“Unfortunately, we are dealing with a significant deterioration in the situation around the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” Zelensky said. “Russian terrorists became the first in the world to use a nuclear power plant for terror. 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 at the factory, which is located on extensive grounds. Ukrainian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the shooting.

‘Irresponsible violation of nuclear safety rules’

The top European Union diplomat has halted Russian military activity around the Zaporizhzya power plant and has 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,” Josep Borrellthe EU’s foreign policy chief said on Twitter on Saturday.

Several Western and Ukrainian officials believe that Russia is now using the massive nuclear facility as a stronghold to protect their forces and launch attacks, citing Kiev not to fire back and risk a crisis.

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

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Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said in late July that Russian troops had used heavy weapons near the plant because “they know very well that the Ukrainian armed forces will not respond to these attacks because they could damage the nuclear power.” plant.”

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

“The potential consequences of hitting a working reactor are equivalent to using an atomic bomb,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Grossi has called on all parties to exercise “the utmost restraint in the vicinity of this important nuclear facility, with its six reactors.”

“Ukrainian personnel operating the plant under Russian occupation must be able to perform their important duties without threats or pressures that undermine not only their own security, but that of the facility itself,” he added.

The IAEA has been trying to coordinate a mission of security experts to visit the factory since Russian forces seized it.

“This mission would play a vital role in stabilizing nuclear safety and security there, as we have done in recent months at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and elsewhere in Ukraine,” he said.

The IAEA sent teams to: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant too late April and in May to provide equipment and conduct radiological assessments of the site, which had been in the hands of Russian forces for over a month before withdrawing in late March.

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

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