IAEA head warns of grave danger due to fighting near Zaporizhzhia plant

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine – The biggest risk for the congested Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is physical damage to equipment from shelling that could lead to radioactive release, the director of the nuclear watchdog said. of the United Nations said Friday after a visit to the site.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Vienna, a day after inspecting the nuclear station in southern Ukraine, there are many other risks. The factory was repeatedly shelled. Loss of external power to cool the reactor core and stress on operating personnel also pose a danger, he said.

“Obviously there is a lot of fighting in general in this part of Ukraine,” Mr. Grossi said. “Military activities and activities are increasing in that part of the country, and this worries me a lot.”

Grossi said two UN experts will stay at the plant to make independent assessments of its safety going forward.

Most of the damage from the fighting at the scattered plant, which is the largest in Europe, occurred during shelling in August, unless one takes into account the devastation, Mr. Grossi said. from the battle in March when the Russian army captured the site.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, nestled in a gentle valley of farm fields in a rural corner of Ukraine and now the site of fierce battles along the front lines, became the first nuclear plant. This year’s operations are set in a combat zone in the history of civilian nuclear power.

Overall, none of what the nuclear watchdog calls the seven pillars of nuclear safety, including physical integrity, reliable external power, and availability of replacement parts So, still intact, Mr. Grossi said. The plant has six reactors and before the war provided 30% of Ukraine’s electricity.

But at some point, the agency’s initial assessment is more optimistic than the picture painted by Ukrainian officials, who say engineers and other employees have been subjected to harsh interrogation and even tortured, increasing their stress levels when they returned to work in the reactor control rooms and on other important jobs.

Grossi said he spoke with Ukrainian personnel and they found a way to cooperate – what he called “cohabitation” – with Russian soldiers and nuclear experts also present at the site. “The factory continues to operate and has a professional vivendi system, if I can do it that way,” he said.

Before the visit, Ukrainian officials had said that the agency should discount whatever employees at the plant say, claiming they are essentially hostages.

Mr. Grossi said Ukrainian and Russian nuclear engineers had managed to “cope” in the operation of the site and he was less worried about disruptions in regulatory oversight and spare parts supplies, problems with the supply of spare parts. This issue is also risky. He spoke after the same group of inspectors crossed the front lines of Russia’s war in Ukraine to conduct an inspection. Their mission was delayed by artillery attacks on their planned route, part of a spiral of chaotic violence in and around the station.

Grossi said his assessment would certainly disappoint both sides as he refused to blame one army or the other for the projectiles that hit the plant.

“I don’t want to pretend that what we are doing is going to end this terrible war or return this factory to Ukraine,” he said. The mission was limited to assessing nuclear safety, which he said the two-man team that remained at the site would do.

“Now, when there is an allegation that something happened at the plant, you can turn to us,” he said, instead of taking the conflicting claims of Russia and Ukraine seriously. “That’s the difference.” He said Russian soldiers did not block access to parts of the site he requested to visit.

Asked to compare the likelihood of fallout from a fallout at Zaporizhzhia with the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant fire and meltdown, which spread radiation across Europe during the nuclear accident worst civilian in the world, Mr. Grossi said the design of the two power plants are not the same. can be compared. Zaporizhzhia’s reactors have tanks to limit radiation. However, he said interruption of external power to cool the reactor core could lead to an outage.

“It could be a big deal or a small thing, depending on the damage,” he said.

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