29th Sep 2023

UN team 'on way' to war-torn Ukraine nuclear plant

  • Zaporizhzhia, Europe's largest nuclear plant, came under Russian control in March and has been the target of repeated shelling since then (Photo: Wikimedia)
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UN inspectors are expected to arrive at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia plant later this week, after months of seeking access to the site.

The safety mission "is now on its way," the chief of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Monday (29 August).

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Zaporizhzhia, Europe's largest nuclear plant, came under Russian control in March and has been the target of repeated shelling since then — raising fears over another potential nuclear disaster.

"We must protect the safety and security of Ukraine's and Europe's biggest nuclear facility," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Rafael Grossi said on Twitter when announcing the mission.

Grossi said he will lead a team of IAEA nuclear experts that will inspect the plant this week — without specifying a specific date.

The mission would assess the physical damage to the station's facilities, determine the functionality of backup safety and security systems, and evaluate the staff's working conditions, the IAEA said.

The nuclear experts would also perform "urgent safeguards activities on the site," the watchdog also said.

The UN, the US, the EU and Ukraine, among others, have urged Russia to withdraw its forces and military equipment from the Zaporizhzhia plant in Enerhodar, south-eastern Ukraine — but their demands have only been met with inaction.

The IAEA chief had previously warned of a "very real risk of a nuclear disaster" if military action continues to take place close to the nuclear plant.

But renewed shelling last week triggered fresh fears over a potential nuclear disaster, as electricity to Zaporizhzhia was cut off for several hours after hostilities in the area damaged a nearby coal power station, causing power blackouts.

Moscow and Kyiv have been accusing each other of the attacks in the area, causing concern internationally.

Nevertheless, both parties have indicated support for the IAEA visit to the nuclear plant — with the Kremlin describing the mission as "necessary," according to Reuters.

"Without an exaggeration, this mission will be the hardest in the history of IAEA," said Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, arguing that Russia is putting global nuclear safety at risk.

Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsy, warned last week that Russian forces have trained Ukrainian staff workers in the plant "in what they should say and what they shouldn't show to the IAEA".

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