IAEA team visits Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection team from the United Nations braved intense shelling to reach the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday.
The IAEA says the inspectors will assess physical damage to the plant, ensure its safety and security systems are functional and evaluate the conditions of the facility’s staff.
After touring the plant on Thursday, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said his inspectors would stay in the plant and that a report on their findings will be produced.
Since its capture by Russia in March, the plant has been controlled by Russian troops but operated by Ukrainian staff.
Ukrainian officials have welcomed the IAEA visit, expressing hope that it will lead to the demilitarisation of the plant.
In a video address late on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reiterated his frequent calls that all troops be removed from the plant, a demand supported by Kyiv’s Western allies and the United Nations.
“The main thing that must happen is the demilitarisation of the station’s territory.
“Demilitarisation and full control of Ukrainian nuclear workers.” Zelenskiy said.
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday Moscow was doing everything to ensure that the plant could operate safely, and for the IAEA inspectors to be able to complete their tasks.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross called for all fighting near the plant to stop, warning that little could be done to respond in the event of a potential nuclear leak.
“(It) will be difficult if not impossible to provide humanitarian assistance … and this is why fighting should stop,” Robert Mardini told a news conference during a visit to Ukraine on Thursday.
The plant sits on the south bank of a huge reservoir on the Dnipro River that divides Russian and Ukrainian forces in central southern Ukraine. Before the war, it supplied more than a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity.
Russia and Ukraine say they fear a Chernobyl-like catastrophe due to shelling they blame on each other.
Russia seized the plant early in the now more than six-month-old war, and areas to the south are now the focus of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Kyiv accuses Moscow of using the facility to shield its forces, a charge Moscow denies while rejecting calls to withdraw troops.