IAEA warns of ‘nuclear disaster’ by shelling Zaporizhzhya reactor

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The United Nations nuclear chief warned of a possible “nuclear disaster” after the shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, and once again urged Russia and Ukraine to grant an expert mission access to the facility to help it to secure.

The shelling of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine highlights the potential for “catastrophic consequences” from attacks on and near the facility, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement on Saturday. .

“Military actions that endanger the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant are completely unacceptable and should be avoided at all costs,” Grossi’s statement said.

After Friday’s shelling, Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the attack. The facility near the front lines has been under Russian control since March but is still staffed by Ukrainians.

In his late-night speech Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted the shelling of Zaporizhzhya as another reason why Russia should be recognized as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” which he has repeatedly requested.

Zelensky also called for sanctions against the Russian nuclear industry.

“This is purely a matter of safety,” he said. “Whoever creates nuclear threats to other countries is absolutely incapable of using nuclear technologies safely.”

In turn, the Russian defense ministry has blamed Ukraine for the attack, saying that protection by Russian-backed troops was the reason the factory was not damaged further. The shelling damaged two power lines and a water main, leaving more than 10,000 residents without water and electricity, the Defense Ministry statement said.

Russia originally seized the facility after one of its projectiles started a fire at the plant’s complex, raising concerns about the safety of Ukraine’s four nuclear sites, which have persisted in the months since.

“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 also that of the facility itself,” Grossi said in his statement.

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) supported Grossi’s calls to stop the attacks on the facility and send a mission there, condemning the shelling in a statement Saturday.

“There is no justification for a civilian nuclear facility being used as a military base or the target of a military operation,” said the organization’s president, Steven Arndt, and its director, Craig Piercy.

Friday’s shelling did not damage any of Zaporizhzhya’s six reactors, Grossi said, and no radioactive material was released into the environment, but the plant was damaged elsewhere.

He added that an IAEA mission to the nuclear power plant would allow inspectors to assess and gather information independently of reports from Ukraine and Russia.

But the situation around Zaporizhzhya is likely to become more dangerous, not less dangerous, according to the British Defense Ministry, as the fiercest fighting shifts towards the power plant.

The IAEA has been working on the security of Ukraine’s nuclear sites for months. In April, Gross led a mission to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant — site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters in 1986 — after Russian-backed forces withdrew from the plant in March.

In early June, he led a follow-up mission to the site, with experts assessing site status and providing training on radiation monitoring equipment. A similar mission to Zaporizhzhya, Grossi said, is “critical” to his security.

“But this will require the cooperation, understanding and facilitation of both Ukraine and Russia,” he said, adding that UN Secretary-General António Guterres supported the agency’s plan.

Grossi was in New York on Monday for the tenth revision conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In his keynote speech, he discussed the IAEA’s “seven pillars” of nuclear safety and security, including the physical integrity of facilities, reliable communication with regulatory authorities and the ability of personnel to work safely.

Those pillars, Grossi said in his statement, had been breached in Zaporizhzhya — during Friday’s shelling and in the months since the Russian invasion.

“We cannot afford to lose any more time,” he said. “To protect the people of Ukraine and elsewhere from a possible nuclear accident, we must all put aside our differences and act now.”

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