Zaporizhia, Ukraine – The biggest danger to the besieged Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant is physical damage to equipment from the bombing that could release radiation, the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday, after a visit to the site.
There are many other dangers, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Vienna, a day after inspecting the nuclear plant in southern Ukraine. The plant, consisting of six reactors, was repeatedly bombarded with artillery. He said the loss of external power to cool the reactor core and stress the operating crew also poses risks.
“There is clearly a lot of fighting in general in this part of Ukraine,” Mr. Grossi said. “Military activity and operations are increasing in that part of the country, and that worries me a lot.”
Mr Grossi said two UN experts will remain at the plant to provide independent safety assessments in the future.
Mr Grossi said most of the damage from the war at the sprawling plant, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, occurred during the bombing in August, unless one considers the devastation of the battle in March when the site was captured by the Russian military.
Mr Grossi said Ukrainian and Russian nuclear engineers have been able to cooperate in operating the site and that he is less concerned about issues with regulatory oversight and parts supply, although those concerns are also significant.
On Thursday, Mr. Grossi and a team of 13 inspectors crossed the front line of the Russian war in Ukraine to inspect the plant. Six observers remained on site. Grossi said four would leave over the weekend, and two would stay on permanently to provide independent risk assessments for the nuclear plant.
While they cannot order a ceasefire or demand the Russian military to withdraw, the monitors will send neutral information and advise operators, providing an additional measure of safety in a situation that has alarmed governments around the world.
Mr Grossi said the risk of a nuclear catastrophe was still real, though he declined to assess the possibility of a major “transboundary” accident.
Before Mr. Grossi announced the agency’s findings, it appeared both Russia and Ukraine were trying to frame the outcome of the visit.
Ukrainian officials sharply criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency’s visit to the plant on Thursday, as they played alongside a staged Russian show aimed at blaming Ukraine for fighting around the plant and safety issues.
“Judging by the footage we saw yesterday, this visit was organized and has nothing to do with the inspection, which indicates bias on the part of the head of the IAEA,” said Vadim Denisenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Reply on Facebook.
Sergei V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, had said on Thursday that Ukraine and its Western allies did not want the inspectors to reach “any fair conclusions”.
Late Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the Russian military of launching attacks during the visit to sow chaos in the hope it would turn the IAEA inspection into a “fruitless journey.” He said the Russians forced local residents to lie about the fighting in meetings with the inspectors. His claims cannot be independently verified.
“Russia has done a lot of cynical things to deceive the mission,” he said.
Mr. Grossi said that the inspectors’ access was not obstructed during the visit. “We’ve seen everything you asked to see,” he said, adding that he would brief the UN Security Council on the mission’s findings on Tuesday.