Home Radiation UN inspectors visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine

UN inspectors visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine

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International inspectors were heading to the Ukrainian nuclear power plant on Monday at the center of growing concern over a potential radioactive disaster.

The UN nuclear monitoring mission is expected to arrive at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power station later this week, offering hope for progress even as the two warring sides traded fresh accusations of shelling around the complex in the south from Ukraine.

“The day has come,” said Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. in a tweet early Monday, announcing that a team was “on the way” after weeks of negotiations to allow nuclear inspectors access to the site near the front lines of the conflict.

“We must protect the safety and security of the largest nuclear facility in Ukraine and Europe,” he said.

The mission, which will be led by Grossi, will assess physical damage to the plant, determine the proper functioning of its safety systems, assess the working conditions of its personnel and carry out any urgent safeguard activities, the IAEA said in a separate tweet.

Inspectors are expected to arrive in Zaporizhzhia as early as Wednesday, two people with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

After leaving Kyiv, the individuals said, the group will meet local officials in Zaporizhzhia, in addition to their visit to the site of the nuclear power plant, located near Enerhodar. They said inspectors would have to spend several days inspecting the power plant.

The UN atomic energy agency has warned for months of the risk of nuclear disaster and sought to send a team to inspect and help secure the plant.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Moscow considers the mission necessary, Russian news agency Tass reported.

He was quoted as saying Russia will provide security for IAEA inspectors in territory it controls, but reiterated Moscow’s opposition to the creation of a demilitarized zone around the plant. It is up to the international community to put pressure on Kyiv to reduce tensions around the site, he added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday that the mission “will be the most difficult in the history of the IAEA” given the active fighting on the ground. Kuleba said earlier that inspectors were expected to arrive in Kyiv on Monday.

Fighting in the region last week temporarily disconnected the plant from the Ukrainian power grid for the first time in its 40-year history, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying the incident left the world narrowly averted a radioactive disaster. .

On Friday, Ukrainian authorities began distributing iodine tablets to residents near the plant in case of a future radioactive leak, bringing back painful memories in a country still haunted by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

Ukraine’s allies have urged Russia to cede control, and the UN has warned that any attack on the plant would be “suicidal”.

Kyiv and Moscow have been swapping responsibility for the bombing of the factory for weeks. NBC News could not verify either party’s claims.

The Zaporizhzhia plant has been under Russian control since Kremlin forces seized land in the south in March, but Ukrainian engineers continue to operate it.

Ukraine’s state nuclear agency, Energoatom, said earlier Monday that Russia “increased pressure” on plant personnel ahead of the arrival of the IAEA mission in order “to prevent them from disclosing evidence of the crimes of the occupants of the plant and its use as a military base”. .” He provided no evidence to support the allegation.

In its latest update on Sunday, the IAEA said that despite reports of new bombings in recent days, all security systems remained operational and there had been no increase in radiation levels.

The United States has accused Russia of failing to recognize the ‘serious radiological risk’ of the plant and of blocking the final draft of a review of a key United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty on the issue. .

News of the mission in Zaporizhzhia was welcomed by the Group of Seven countries, including the United States. In a statement on Monday, he said IAEA personnel must be able to access all nuclear facilities in Ukraine “in a timely, safe and unimpeded manner”.

This came as Ukraine appeared to launch its long-awaited counter-offensive against Russian-occupied areas in the south, including the Kherson region.

“Today we launched offensive actions in different directions,” spokeswoman for the Southern Military Command, Natalia Humeniuk, told Ukrainian state TV channel Suspilne.

Military observers have been anticipating a ground counterattack in the south for months as Kyiv appears to be targeting Russian arms depots and other military installations behind its defensive lines there and in neighboring Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Anastasia Parafeniuk contributed.