The head of the UN‘s nuclear agency has warned a massive nuclear power plant overtaken by Russia during the Ukraine invasion is “completely out of control”.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such plant in Europe and responsible for one fifth of Ukraine’s energy needs, was seized by advancing Russian forces on March 4.
Under Russian control, it continues to generate electricity. However there are reports that it is also being used a weapons store with several rocket launchers moved to the station’s grounds on the banks of the strategically important Dnipro River.
UN nuclear official Rafael Grossi warned the Zaporizhzhia plant needed an urgent inspection and repairs.
“You have a catalogue of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility,” he said at a UN conference in New York.
“The situation is very fragile. Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated one way or the other and we cannot allow that to continue.”
He said communication with staff at the plant had been “patchy”, warning the region will only have itself to blame if a nuclear disaster unfolds.
“While this war rages on, inaction is unconscionable,” he said. ”If an accident occurs at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, we will not have a natural disaster to blame – we will have only ourselves to answer to. We need everyone‘s support.”
Russian official Yevgeny Balitsky said officials were ready to show Mr Grossi’s agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), how Russians were guarding the nuclear facility while Ukrainians were allegedly attacking it.
Two weeks ago, several Russian soldiers occupying the plant died following an unexplained “event”.
Some of the troops “were so scared they ran around the station in a panic,” the exiled mayor of the city of Enerhodar in southern Ukraine, Dmytro Orlov said.
A Kyiv news site has reported that Russian troops took passes from staff at the plant and “violated safety rules”.
On July 20, Enerhodar mayor Dmytro Orlov took to social media site Telegram to say that an “event” had occurred at the power station but the details were unclear.
“What is known for sure (is that) in the afternoon nine soldiers of the terrorist country (Russia) were urgently delivered to the city hospital with injuries of varying degrees of severity.
“Some are treated on an outpatient basis, some are hospitalised. One of them in serious condition – in intensive care,” he wrote.
“There are also dead people, but we cannot name their exact number at the moment.”
Mr Orlov went onto to say that he would “not guess” what had led to the “thinning of the ranks” of the occupiers.
“We can only add that the ‘orcs’ (a slur used to refer to Russian soldiers) were so frightened that they ran around the station in a panic.
“For a long time they blocked two shifts of operative personnel who were supposed to replace each other,” he said.
“The occupiers continue to look for enemies. And, perhaps, they are beginning to realise that the cynical shelling of neighbouring settlements, conducted by them from the territory of the nuclear plant, will not pass without a trace for them.”
It is not known whether there was an accident at the nuclear power station itself, either within the plant or the weapons stored there, or if the plant came under attack from Ukrainian forces from the other side of the river.
– with Benedict Brook