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5th Mar 2024

Nuclear chief on Zaporizhzhia: 'How long will we be lucky?'

  • International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi at the foreign affairs ministers meeting on Monday (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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The international nuclear agency's chief has urged MEPs to use their influence to push for a combat-free zone around Europe's largest nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told MEPs on Tuesday (24 January) that the situation around Zaporizhzhia is "pretty intense".

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"The establishment of a protection zone is ever more urgent and needed. This is an active combat zone, this nuclear power plant with six reactors is lying on the frontline," he said.

"I don't know for how long we are going to be lucky in avoiding a nuclear accident," Grossi said, adding that the protection zone would help avoiding that.

Grossi has spent last week in Ukraine in negotiations and is heading to Russia mid-February to seek an agreement on the protection zone.

"For months Russian armed forces have been using these Ukrainian power plants as safe havens to store ammunition and launch attacks on neighbouring areas," German MEP David McAllister, chair of the foreign affairs committee, said after the meeting.

"We do hope negotiations will conclude shortly, allowing for early establishment of this protection zone," French MEP Nathalie Loiseau said.

Grossi described Zaporizhzhia as a "flash point' in the war, as it is on Russian occupied territory.

"It has this quite bizarre situation: a Ukrainian facility in Russian-controlled territory, managed by Russians, but operated by Ukrainians," Grossi said.

"We have had serious cases of direct shelling especially late August and then in November, when we had another two days of direct bombing shelling," Grossi said.

He added that blackouts caused by the shelling are a "very dangerous thing", as power is needed to maintain the cooling system of the plant needs electricity.

There is a permanent presence of IAEA experts and inspectors, which Grossi said he left as a "fait accompli" there last year before the agreement between the two combat sides.

Grossi said the plant is not producing energy for the Ukraine grid, but it is not shut down completely as a low-level operation is needed to keep the safety systems working.

The IAEA chief said he aims for an "abstention of military action in and around the plant".

"There is a purely military aspect to what we are asking for," he said, adding that Russia would have to commit to not place rocket launchers, or heavy artillery around the plant.

"We need a political decisions," Grossi said, who on Monday also briefed EU foreign affairs ministers on his talks.

The Russian army last week said its troops launched an offensive in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region, where fighting intensified after several months of an almost frozen frontline.

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