UN nuclear watchdog warns of ‘difficult hour’ amid renewed shelling of Ukraine’s Zaporizhia power plant | Ukraine

The United Nations nuclear watchdog has urged officials to visit Ukraine’s Zaporizhia power plant as soon as possible amid renewed shelling in the region and warning of the “catastrophic consequences” of ongoing fighting near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

“This is a serious hour, a serious hour and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] must be allowed to carry out its mission to Zaporizhia as soon as possible,” the agency’s head, Rafael Grossi, said at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday evening.

Ukrainian state-owned company Energoatom, which operates the facility, said the area was hit five times on Thursday, including near the site where radioactive materials are stored.

“Five [hits] were recorded near the plant management office – right next to the welding site and storage for radiation sources,” Enerhoatom said in a post on its official Telegram channel. “The grass caught fire in a small area, but fortunately no one was hurt.”

The claims come just a day after Ukraine accused Russia of firing rockets from near a hijacked nuclear power plant, killing at least 13 people and injuring 10, knowing it would be risky for Ukraine to open the fire reply.

The top UN official called for an immediate end to all military activity around the Zaporozhye facility and warned that further “deeply worrying” incidents – if sustained – could lead to disaster.

“I call for an immediate cessation of all military activities in close proximity to the plant and not to target its facilities or surroundings,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

Guterres warned that any possible damage to the Zaporizhia plant “could have disastrous consequences not only for the immediate area but for the region and beyond.”

Grossi said he was ready to lead an expert mission to inspect the site in southeastern Ukraine and urged Russia and Ukraine to work together so officials could travel as soon as possible.

“Time is of the essence,” he told the 15-member Security Council via video transmission, adding that the agency could urgently work on safeguards and exert a stabilizing influence to “prevent a nuclear accident.”

“The IAEA has been ready to conduct a mission like this since June when we were ready to go,” Grossi told the council, adding that all military action around the facility must be halted.

A house in ruins after shelling in Ukraine's Zaporizhia regionA house in ruins after shelling in Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region. Photo: Future Publishing/Ukrinform/Getty Images

Zaporizhia, in the town of Enerhodar, which was captured by Russian forces in early March, has been the scene of escalating clashes between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

The facility is controlled by Russia, but its Ukrainian technicians continue to conduct nuclear operations.

The two sides have traded blame for a recent escalation in fighting surrounding the nuclear facility.

Petro Kotin, head of Energoatom, earlier this week warned of the danger of shells hitting containers with highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel. If two or more containers were to break, “the extent of the resulting disaster cannot be estimated.”

“Such crazy actions could cause the situation to spiral out of control and become Fukushima or Chernobyl,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Moscow of resorting to “blank nuclear blackmail” in his recent national address on Thursday evening..

“Nobody else has used a nuclear power plant so blatantly to threaten the whole world and impose conditions,” he said. “Only the complete withdrawal of the Russians from the area of ​​the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant and the restoration of full control of Ukraine over the situation around the power plant will guarantee the restoration of nuclear safety for all of Europe.”

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said Thursday the world was being “brought to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe comparable to Chernobyl,” but blamed Ukraine.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins supported the idea of ​​an IAEA mission in Ukraine. “This visit cannot wait any longer,” she told the Security Council, adding that the only way to ensure nuclear safety is for Moscow to end its war.

The Associated Press contributed to this report