IAEA warns of ‘nuclear disaster’ following bombing of Zaporizhzhia reactor

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The UN nuclear chief has warned of a potential ‘nuclear disaster’ after the bombing of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, once again urging Russia and Ukraine to allow an expert mission to access the facility to help secure it.

The bombing of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine highlights the potential for “catastrophic consequences” from attacks on and near the facility, Rafael Grossi, director general of the nuclear power plant, said on Saturday. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in a statement.

“Military action jeopardizing the safety and security of the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs,” Grossi said.

After Friday’s bombardment, Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the attack. The facility near the front lines of the fighting has been under Russian control since March, but is still occupied by Ukrainians.

In his Friday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted the bombing of Zaporizhzhia as another reason why Russia should be recognized as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, something he has repeatedly called for.

Zelensky also advocated for sanctions against Russia’s nuclear industry.

“It’s purely a safety issue,” he said. “Anyone who creates nuclear threats to other nations is certainly not capable of using nuclear technologies safely.”

In turn, the Russian Defense Ministry blamed Ukraine for the attack, saying the protection of Russian-backed forces was the reason the plant was not damaged further. The bombardment damaged two power lines and a water pipe, leaving more than 10,000 residents without water or electricity, according to the Defense Ministry statement.

Russia initially seized the facility after one of its projectiles sparked a fire at the plant complex, sparking concerns over the safety of Ukraine’s four nuclear sites that continued in the months that followed. .

“Ukrainian personnel operating the plant under Russian occupation must be able to carry out their important duties without threats or pressures that compromise not only their own safety but also that of the facility itself,” Grossi said. in his press release.

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) backed Grossi’s calls to end attacks on the facility and send a mission there, condemning the bombing in a statement on Saturday.

“It is unjustifiable for a civilian nuclear facility to be used as a military base or targeted in a military operation,” said the organization’s president, Steven Arndt, and chief executive, Craig Piercy.

Friday’s bombardment did not damage any of Zaporizhzhia’s six reactors and did not release any radioactive material into the environment, according to Grossi, but the plant suffered damage elsewhere.

He added that an IAEA mission to the nuclear plant would allow inspectors to assess it and gather information independent of reports from Ukraine and Russia.

But the situation around Zaporizhzhia is likely to become more, not less perilous, according to the British Ministry of Defense, as the heaviest fighting moves in the direction of the power station.

The IAEA has been working for months to ensure the security of Ukrainian nuclear sites. In April, Gross led a mission to the Chernobyl power plant, site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters in 1986, after Russian-backed forces withdrew in March.

He led a follow-up mission to the site in early June, with experts who assessed his condition and provided training on radiation monitoring equipment. A similar mission to Zaporizhzhia, Grossi said, is “crucial” for his safety.

“But it will require the cooperation, understanding and facilitation of Ukraine and Russia,” he said, adding that UN Secretary General António Guterres backed the agency’s plan.

Grossi was in New York on Monday for the Tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In his opening speech, he referred to the IAEA’s “seven pillars” of nuclear safety and security, which include the physical integrity of facilities, reliable communication with regulators and the capacity of personnel to work safely.

Those pillars, Grossi said in his statement, had been breached in Zaporizhzhia — during Friday’s bombardment and in the months after the Russian invasion.

“We cannot afford to waste any more time,” he said. “To protect people in Ukraine and elsewhere from a possible nuclear accident, we must all put aside our differences and act, now.”

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