VIENNA, Austria, August 22, 2022 (ENS) – The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “reconsidered” his original demand that International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, inspectors travel through Russia to inspect Europe’s largest nuclear facility – the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine.
There is growing concern in Europe that the shelling happening around Zaporizhzhia could result in a catastrophe worse than the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Artillery shells hit Ukraine’s southern city of Nikopol early Sunday, not far from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, just as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia may try to do “something particularly cruel” to mark the six-month-long invasion.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi is taking a hopeful attitude. He “welcomed recent statements indicating that both Ukraine and Russia supported the IAEA’s aim to send a mission” to the plant.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in southeastern Ukraine is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world. It was built by the Soviet Union near the city of Enerhodar, on the southern shore of the Kakhovka Reservoir on the Dnieper River.
It is operated by Energoatom, short for the National Nuclear Energy Generating Company of Ukraine, a Ukrainian state enterprise, which operates all four of the country’s nuclear power stations.
Ukraine informed the IAEA on Friday that 10 of the 15 nuclear energy reactors at the country’s four nuclear power plants are currently connected to the grid, including two at the ZNPP.
In his daily address Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned, “If Russian blackmail with radiation continues, this summer may go down in the history of various European countries as one of the most tragic of all time. Because not a single instruction at any nuclear power plant in the world envisages a procedure in case a terrorist state turns a nuclear power plant into a target.”
Zelenskyy said, “Ukrainian diplomats, our partners, representatives of the UN and the IAEA are working out the specific details of the mission to be sent to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. … I am grateful to everyone who joined this work and initiative.”
Ukraine has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about new shelling in the area of the Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant, ZNPP, following last week’s shelling there, underlining major nuclear safety and security risks, IAEA Director General Grossi said Friday.
Ukraine initially also reported that a scheduled shift change had to be stopped, but later told the IAEA that personnel rotation was back to normal. There were no casualties at the plant and its safety systems were not damaged, Ukraine reported.
Based on the information provided by Ukraine, IAEA experts noted that systems important for nuclear safety and security had not been affected. Still, renewed shelling at or near the ZNPP was “deeply troubling” for nuclear safety and security at the six-reactor facility, Grossi said, reiterating his demand that all such military activity cease.
Thursday’s shelling occurred on the same day as Director General Grossi briefed the United Nations Security Council about the worsening nuclear safety and security situation at the ZNPP over the past week, emphasizing the urgent need for the IAEA to be able to send an expert mission to carry out essential nuclear safety, security and safeguards work there.
The IAEA has not been able to visit the ZNPP since before the conflict began almost half a year ago. Since early March, ZNPP has been controlled by Russian forces, but the Ukrainian staff are continuing to operate the plant.
The IAEA is continuing to receive remote safeguards data from the sites of the four operational nuclear power plants in Ukraine, and its experts have now also restored full safeguards data transfer from the Chornobyl nuclear site after experiencing a period of partial loss of such transmission, Director General Grossi said.
Featured image: A Russian soldier stands beside the Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant reactor 1, Energodar, Ukraine, May 1, 2022. (File Photo by Andrey Borodulin courtesy AFP)