The “physical integrity” of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in south-eastern Ukraine has been “violated”, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said, as Ukraine’s authorities accused Russia of misleading the inspection mission.
After leading a team of inspectors to the Russian-occupied plant, the biggest nuclear power station in Europe, Rafael Grossi said that two IAEA experts would stay on permanently to provide constant monitoring and an uninterrupted flow of information to IAEA headquarters in Vienna.
Grossi hoped the agency’s presence would help “stabilise” the situation there, after recent instances of shelling of the plant. But he said he remained very concerned about safety.
“It is obvious that the plant and physical integrity of the plant has been violated several times,” Grossi told reporters.
“Irrespective of the kinetic power of whatever you are throwing at the plant, it’s unacceptable under any safety and security criteria.”
He said his other two main concerns were the external power supply which had been interrupted recently triggering the emergency diesel generators to switch on to keep cooling and other systems going, and the condition of the staff.
Once back in Vienna, Grossi said it was “admirable” that Ukrainian technical staff were continuing to work to keep the plant going (two of the six reactors are still functioning) and maintaining professional relations with their Russian counterparts, but he added: “There is a latent tension there because of the obvious reasons of the war.”
Ukraine’s state nuclear agency, Energoatom, had claimed that the IAEA was not shown certain areas of the site, and instead had witnessed a staged “show”. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, accused Russia of intimidating residents in the nearby town of Enerhodar to lie to the IAEA representatives about events at the plant and “sign things”.
Grossi insisted he and his team had seen “everything I request to see”, but he conceded he was not able to talk to any of the Russian soldiers who have commandeered the plant’s crisis centre as their headquarters.
“The military presence there did not approach us in any way and were not available when I asked for a couple of occasions to talk to one of them,” he said.
The IAEA chief said an alternative crisis centre has been set up but added that he will be requesting the military to hand back the purpose built facility they are occupying.
Grossi left six of his staff behind at the site, but four of them will leave next week, leaving two IAEA experts there permanently.
The IAEA is there to stay for as long as it is needed. We are not leaving. We’re not going anywhere,” Grossi said. “For those who may have intentions on the plant, knowing that international inspectors are there, witnessing and informing immediately what is happening, has an inherently very important stabilising effect.”
Ukraine and Russia have traded blame over attacks on and near the plant, with Ukraine claiming they are false-flag operations carried out by Russia.
Zelenskiy also voiced concerns over Ukrainian and international journalists not being allowed to travel with the delegation, as previously agreed. He said the occupying forces did not allow the journalists to cross the frontlines.
“Unfortunately, IAEA representatives did not protect representatives of independent media,” said Zelenskiy, who said only Russian propagandists were present. Zelenskiy said the key thing for Ukraine and the international community was the demilitarisation of the plant. He said it was “bad that we have not yet heard the appropriate calls [for demilitarisation] from the IAEA”.
Russian state media have published videos of Russian officials from Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear agency, giving the mission a tour of the plant.
Grossi said his agency would complete a full report on the visit by early next week and he would brief the UN security council on the visit next Tuesday.
The Ukrainian energy minister, German Galushchenko, told Ukraine’s 1+1 television channel that “it is important for us that the station must be under national control, meaning that the station must be returned to the control of Ukraine”.
Grossi said the security situation was “pretty difficult” during his visit. “There were moments where fire was obvious, heavy machine gun, artillery, mortars two or three times – we were very concerned.” But he said the mission received “splendid support from the UN security team”.
“I think we showed that the international community is there, could be there and we will be continuing this,” Grossi said.
Zaporizhzhia, has faced repeated shelling in recent weeks, with Kyiv and Moscow blaming each other for the attacks, raising concerns of a possible disaster. On Thursday, a dawn shelling attack on the area forced one of the plant’s six reactors to shut down.
On Friday afternoon the electricity supply to a reactor was reconnected after it was cut for the second time in 10 days because of shelling, according to Energoatom. The plant needs electricity for its cooling and security systems. In the event all supply lines are cut, the plant’s workers would have 90 minutes to avoid dangerous overheating.
In a video address late on Thursday, Zelenskiy reiterated his frequent calls that all troops be removed from the plant. “The main thing that must happen is the demilitarisation of the station’s territory,” he said. “Demilitarisation and full control of Ukrainian nuclear workers.”