The United Nations chief has requested for an immediate end to all military activity around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, as Moscow and Kyiv accused each other for renewed shelling.
Ukraine’s Energoatom agency stated that the Zaporizhzhia complex was struck five times on Thursday, including near where radioactive materials are kept.
Meanwhile, Russian-appointed officials, said Ukraine shelled the plant twice, delaying a shift changeover, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
In a press release ahead of a UN Security Council meeting called by Russia, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned that any damage could lead to “catastrophic consequences” in the region and beyond.
“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area,” Guterres disclosed in a statement.
UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi informed the Security Council that the military activity around Zaporizhzhia was “very alarming” and called on Ukraine and Russia to quickly allow nuclear experts to estimate damage as well as evaluate safety and security at the complex because the situation had “been deteriorating very rapidly”.
Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), cited shelling and several explosions at Zaporizhzhia last Friday that forced the shutdown of the electrical power transformer and two backup transformers, resulting to one of the nuclear reactors being closed down.
He had previously warned that the situation at Zaporizhzhia, which was deployed by Russia in March, soon after the February 24 invasion, was getting more disastrous every day.
While the plant in southeastern Ukraine is managed by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to oversee its operations.
Grossi said reports received from Russia and Ukraine were “frequently contradicted” and that the IAEA could not confirm the truth unless its experts visits the site, a call that was supported by the United States.
Plant shelled again
At the Security Council meeting, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia blamed Kyiv of “criminal attacks on nuclear infrastructure … pushing the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe”.
Kyiv has also blamed Russia of shooting rockets at Ukrainian towns from around Zaporizhzhia, knowing fully well that it would be dangerous for Ukraine to return fire.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Russia to send the plant to Ukraine.
“Only a full withdrawal of the Russians … and the restoration of full Ukrainian control of the situation around the station can guarantee a resumption of nuclear security for all of Europe,” he said in a video address.
‘More catastrophic than Chernobyl’
The Russian capture of Zaporizhzhia has reestablished fears that the largest of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors could be destroyed, setting off an emergency on the scale of Chernobyl in 1986. The world’s worst nuclear disaster commenced with the failure of a routine systems test and took place about 110km (65 miles) north of the capital Kyiv, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.
Zelenskyy noted that the consequences of a radiation accident at Zaporizhzhia “could be even more catastrophic than Chernobyl, and essentially the same as the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, but without a nuclear strike”.
The Moscow-installed temporary head of the Zaporizhzhia region had on Thursday said that the Russia-backed administration stood prepared to ensure the safety of any IAEA delegation sent to probe the situation.
“We are fully ready to accept the IAEA, we will ensure security,” Yevhen Balytskyy stated in an interview on Russian state TV. He also added that the Kremlin-backed authorities had prepared armoured vehicles for the international envoys.
Grossi disclosed in a statement on Wednesday that he would personally lead an expert mission to inspect the nuclear plant “in the very near future,” without elaborating on the timeline.