Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine is facing a “difficult hour,” says UN watchdog

Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine is facing a “difficult hour,” says UN watchdog

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned that parts of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant had been destroyed as a result of the recent attacks, risking an “unacceptable” potential radiation leak.

“IAEA experts believe there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety,” but “that could change at any time,” Grossi said.

“Any military action that endangers nuclear safety, nuclear safety, must stop immediately,” he added. “These military actions in the vicinity of such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences.”

The Zaporizhia plant – the largest nuclear power plant in Europe – occupies a vast area on the Dnipro River near the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar. Since being captured by Russian forces in early March, it has continued to operate at a reduced capacity while Ukrainian technicians were still at work.

Russia and Ukraine have so far been unwilling to agree to an IAEA inspection of the plant, accusing each other of shelling the facility – an action the IAEA described as violating “vital pillars of nuclear safety”.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Thursday blamed Ukraine for the shelling and urged Kiev supporters to halt the attacks and prevent a catastrophic radiation leak.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pointed the finger at Moscow, which he says poses a threat to all of Europe.

“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 the whole of Europe,” said Zelenskyy.

According to Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom, ten shells landed near the complex on Thursday, preventing a shift handover.

“For the safety of the nuclear workers, the buses were sent back to Enerhodar with the next shift’s personnel,” the agency said. “Until the situation finally returns to normal, workers from the previous shift will continue to work.”

According to Energoatom, radiation levels at the site remained normal despite renewed attacks.

Several Western and Ukrainian officials believe that Russia is using the huge nuclear facility as a fortress to shield its troops and launch attacks, assuming Kyiv will not return fire and risk a crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Moscow of using the facility to protect its armed forces, while the UK Ministry of Defense said in a recent security assessment that Russia’s actions at the complex are sabotaging the security of its operations.

Ukrainian Mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said in late July that Russian forces had been observed using heavy weapons near the power plant because “they know very well that Ukrainian forces will not respond to these attacks because they use nuclear power.” can damage plant.”

The US on Thursday backed Ukraine’s calls for a demilitarized zone around the plant, while Bonnie Jenkins, US undersecretary for arms control and international affairs, said Russia was responsible for the “nuclear risks” at the plant.

She warned the UN Security Council that “the many consequences of this conflict, including the situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, will not end until Russia ends its war.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who previously described the shelling of the facility as “suicidal,” said in a statement Thursday that he was “seriously concerned.”

“We must be aware that any potential damage to Zaporizhia or other nuclear facilities in Ukraine or elsewhere could have catastrophic consequences not only for the immediate area but also for the region and beyond,” he said.

CNN’s Sugham Pokharel, Jennifer Hansler, Tim Lister, Yulia Kesaieva, and Tara John contributed to this report.