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UN nuclear watchdog heads to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant for inspection

A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency has left Kyiv for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, in a region of Ukraine occupied by Russia, for an inspection after bombardment in the area led to fears of a catastrophe.

The IAEA mission, comprising representatives from countries deemed neutral by both sides, will inspect the plant and lend technical assistance. The visit was reportedly intended to last four days but the Russian-occupying authorities say they will be given access for one day.

Fighting in and around the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, damaged vital electricity supplies last week prompting global concern.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the agency, who is leading the mission, said these were very complex operations.

“We are going to a war zone. We are going to occupied territory. And this requires explicit guarantees from not only from the Russians but also from the Republic of Ukraine,” Grossi said in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv before the monitoring the mission’s departure.

“We have been able to secure that … So now we are moving,” said Grossi of the security guarantees by both sides. On Monday the plant and the nearby towns of Enerhodar and Nikapol were badly shelled.

Grossi said he hoped to establish a permanent mission in Ukraine to monitor the plant.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the mission would spend four days at the plant. But on Wednesday, Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Russian-installed Zaporizhzhia administration, a Russian-appointed official was quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax as saying the delegates would be given just one day at the facility.

“The programme of the visit is designed for one day. They must see the operation of the station in one day. Those elements that they have talked about can be seen within this process. So far, [the purpose of the visit] has been stated – ‘to get acquainted with the work of the station’. For us, this is a vague concept,” he said.

Captured by Russian troops in March but run by Ukrainian staff, the Zaporizhzhia region is a hotspot in a conflict that has settled into a war of attrition fought mainly in eastern and southern Ukraine six months after Russia launched its invasion.

Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over attacks on and near the plant. Ukraine claims the attacks are false-flag operations carried out by Russia to damage the image of the Ukrainian army; Russia says the attacks are being conducted by Ukraine.

The world was on edge last week when fighting cut off electricity supplies to the plant, disconnecting it from the grid for the first time. The plant needs electricity for its cooling rods and security systems.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the world narrowly avoided a “radiation disaster”. A backup electricity supply line kicked in and the plant avoided dangerous overheating.

Nuclear plant came close to ‘radiation disaster’, says Zelenskiy – video

Russia is using the plant as a military base. Ukraine, the US and the UN have called for the facility to be demilitarised. Russia said there are no “ongoing discussions” about demilitarisation, Russia’s TASS news agency reported, citing the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov.

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Ukraine’s energy minister, German Galushchenko, said Kyiv was seeking international assistance to try to demilitarise the area.

“We think the mission should be a very important step to return the plant to Ukrainian government control by the end of the year,” he told the Associated Press.
“We have information that they are now trying to hide their military presence, so they should check all of this.”

The US has called for the plant to be shut down. “We continue to believe that a controlled shutdown of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactors would be the safest and least risky option in the near-term,” said the White House National security council spokesperson, John Kirby.

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