IAEA calls for security zone around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

A Russian all-terrain armoured vehicle is parked outside the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant during the visit of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert mission in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on Tuesday for fighting to be halted in a security zone around Europe’s biggest nuclear power station, saying its experts had found extensive damage at the plant on the front in the Ukraine war.

A long-awaited report did not ascribe blame for damage to the Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant, which Russia and Ukraine each accuse each other of shelling. But it called the situation unsustainable and said unless the shooting stops there would be a risk of disaster.

The plant, seized by Russia shortly after its invasion of Ukraine, is controlled by Russian forces but run by Ukrainian technicians. It sits at the frontline on a Russian-held bank of a huge reservoir with Ukrainian positions across the water.

“While the ongoing shelling has not yet triggered a nuclear emergency, it continues to represent a constant threat to nuclear safety and security with potential impact on critical safety functions that may lead to radiological consequences with great safety significance,” the IAEA wrote.

“The IAEA recommends that shelling on site and in its vicinity should be stopped immediately to avoid any further damages to the plant and associated facilities,” it said. “This requires agreement by all relevant parties to the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone.”

Inspectors said they had found Russian troops and equipment at the plant, including military vehicles parked in turbine halls. Moscow has denied accusations that it used the plant as a shield for its forces, but says it has troops guarding it.

“Ukrainian staff operating the plant under Russian military occupation are under constant high stress and pressure, especially with the limited staff available,” the IAEA report said. “This is not sustainable and could lead to increased human error with implications for nuclear safety.”

IAEA inspectors led by the agency’s chief, Rafael Grossi, braved shelling to cross the front line and reach the power station last week. Two experts have stayed on to maintain a long-term presence.

Earlier on Tuesday, blasts rang out and power was cut in the city surrounding the plant, Enerhodar, according to Dmytro Orlov, the Ukrainian mayor who operates from outside Russian-held territory. Moscow repeated its longstanding accusations that Ukrainian forces had been shelling the plant.

Kyiv says it is Russia that has been staging such incidents, to undermine international support for Ukraine and as a possible pretext to cut the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and steal its output. Russia has so far spurned international pleas to pull its forces back from the site and demilitarise the area.

The IAEA report listed areas of the plant that had been damaged, including a building housing nuclear fuel, a facility for storing radioactive waste, and a building housing an alarm system. It said the power station had been cut off several times from offsite power supplies critical to its safe operation.

Grossi is expected to brief the U.N. Security Council in New York on his findings later on Tuesday.

Thousands of people have died and millions have fled Ukraine since Russia launched what it calls a special military operation in February saying it aimed to demilitarise its neighbour. Kyiv and the West call it a brazen war of conquest.

The past week has seen the focus of fighting shift mainly to the south, where Ukraine has started a long-awaited counter-attack to recapture territory seized early in the war. Kyiv has also used the opportunity to launch advances elsewhere along the front, and officials hinted on Tuesday at a battlefield success in the east.

“Tonight there is going to be great news from President Zelenskiy on (the) counteroffensive operation in Kharkiv region,” Zelenskiy advisor Serhiy Leshchenko said on Twitter, referring to the northeastern province around Ukraine’s second biggest city.

Several posts in social media from military bloggers and witnesses reported fighting around Balakliia, a town of 27,000 people that lies between Kharkiv and Izyum, a major railway hub city long held by Russia and used to supply its eastern forces.

Control of Balakliia could facilitate a Ukrainian attempt to encircle or partially encircle Izyum, said Kyiv-based military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.

Little information has emerged about the progress of the main Ukrainian offensive in the southern Kherson region, with Kyiv barring journalists from the frontline and releasing only limited reports, to preserve the element of surprise.

Russia says it has repelled the Kherson assault. Western military experts say Ukraine’s aim appears to be to trap thousands of Russian troops on the west bank of the wide Dnipro River and cut them off by destroying their rear supply lines.

Meanwhile, Russia has continued to bombard Ukrainian cities. Rescue workers found the body of a woman beneath the rubble of an apartment building in Kharkiv after overnight shelling, mayor Ihor Terekhov said. The governor said two others were also killed in the province.

Ukrainian officials said Russia had also struck an oil depot in Kryvy Rih, President’s Zelenskiy’s hometown.

“There’s a big fire at the oil depot. Fire services are working at the site. We’re working to establish the scale of destruction and information about casualties,” Valentyn Reznychenko, a local regional official, said.

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