Russia-Ukraine crisis

UN mission says Ukraine nuclear plant inspection to last ‘a few days’

Reuters
UN mission says Ukraine nuclear plant inspection to last ‘a few days’

NUCLEAR PLANT. A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on August 30, 2022.

Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

(3rd UPDATE) A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency led by its chief, Rafael Grossi, is expected to visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant this week for inspections

KYIV, Ukraine – UN nuclear inspectors set off for Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on Wednesday, August 31, saying their mission was to prevent a nuclear accident and try to stabilize the situation after weeks of shelling nearby.

A Reuters reporter following the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team in a convoy from the capital Kyiv said the inspectors arrived in the nearby city of Zaporizhzhia, where they were likely to spend the night before visiting the plant, which is on territory controlled by Russia, on Thursday.

Russian-installed officials in the area near the power station suggested the visit might last only one day, while IAEA and Ukrainian officials suggested it would last longer.

“The mission will take a few days. If we are able to establish a permanent presence, or a continued presence, then it’s going to be prolonged. But this first segment is going to take a few days,” Grossi told reporters at a hotel in
Zaporizhzhia.

“We have a very important task there to perform – to assess the real situation there, to help stabilize the situation as much as we can,” he said, adding the IAEA team had guarantees from both Russia and Ukraine enabling it to enter the war zone.

Russia captured the plant, Europe’s largest, in early March as part of what Moscow calls its “special military operation”, something Kyiv and the West have described as an unprovoked invasion designed to grab land and erase Ukrainian identity.

A Russian military force has been at the plant ever since, as has most of the Ukrainian workforce who have toiled to continue running the facility, which traditionally supplied Ukraine with 20 percent of its electricity needs.

Fighting was reported both near the power station and further afield, with Kyiv and Moscow both claiming battlefield successes as Ukraine mounted a counter-offensive to recapture territory in the south. Reuters could not independently verify such reports.

Away from Ukraine, Russia halted gas supplies through the biggest pipeline to its top customer Germany, raising the prospect of recession and energy rationing in some of Europe’s richest countries going into winter.

High risk

For weeks now, Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of endangering the plant’s safety with artillery or drone strikes and risking a Chornobyl-style radiation disaster.

Kyiv says Russia has been using the plant as a shield to strike towns and cities, knowing it will be hard for Ukraine to return fire. It has also accused Russian forces of shelling the plant.

“The risk of a radiation disaster due to Russian actions does not decrease for an hour,” Ukrainian resident Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late on Tuesday.

The Russian defense ministry has said that radiation levels at the plant are normal.

Russia has denied Ukrainian assertions of reckless behavior, questioning why it would shell a facility where its own troops are garrisoned as what it describes as a security detail.

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Moscow has accused the Ukrainians of shelling the plant to try to generate international outrage that Kyiv hopes will result in a demilitarized zone.

Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galuschenko said the IAEA inspection was a step towards “deoccupying and demilitarising” the site. Russia has said it has no intention of withdrawing its
forces for now.

Asked about plans for a demilitarized zone at the plant, Grossi said this was a matter of political will involving the countries engaged in the conflict.

“But my mission – I think it’s very important to establish (this) with all clarity – my mission is a technical mission. It’s a mission that seeks to prevent a nuclear accident. And to preserve this important (nuclear power plant),” he said.

Questions and doubts

Grossi said one of his priorities was to talk to the Ukrainian technicians running the plant.

“That’s one of the most important things I want to do and I will do it,” he said.

It was not immediately clear how long the inspectors would be able to remain at the power station however.

Russia said it welcomed the IAEA’s stated intention to set up a permanent mission at the plant.

But Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian-installed administration in the area, told the Interfax news agency that the IAEA inspectors “must see the work of the station in one
day”.

The United States has urged a complete shutdown of the plant and called for a demilitarized zone around it.

The Interfax news agency quoted a Russian-appointed local official as saying on Wednesday that two of the plant’s six reactors were running.

The plant is close to the front lines and Ukraine’s armed forces on Wednesday accused Russia of shelling a contact line in the area and of preparing to resume an offensive there.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow.

In his late night address, Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were attacking Russian positions in Ukraine along the entire front line after Kyiv announced on Monday it had launched an offensive to try to retake the south. Zelenskiy said his forces were also on the offensive in the east.

Russia captured large tracts of southern Ukraine near the Black Sea coast in the early weeks of the six-month-old war, including in the Kherson region, which lies north of the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Ukraine sees recapturing the region as crucial to prevent Russian attempts to seize more territory further west that could eventually cut off its access to the Black Sea.

Russia’s defense ministry has denied reports of Ukrainian progress and said its troops had routed Ukrainian forces. – Rappler.com

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