World IAEA inspectors arrive at endangered nuclear plant in Ukraine...

IAEA inspectors arrive at endangered nuclear plant in Ukraine after perilous journey

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The main concern is that the fighting in the area near the plant could compromise its integrity and lead to a dangerous release of radiation, which would almost certainly be deadly for the entire region. File Photo by Sergei Supinsky/EPA-EFE

Sept. 1 (BP) — A United Nations team of inspectors arrived in southeastern Ukraine on Thursday to inspect a nuclear power plant that’s been at the center of the Russian war for weeks and is causing serious concern.

The team arrived in Kyiv on Wednesday and set out Thursday for Zaporizhzhia to examine the electricity plant, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power facility.

The visit is more than a week in the making. Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it wanted to examine the plant, which has been in close proximity to heavy shelling and has sustained some damage. It was also knocked off the main power grid last week, a situation that would have quickly become grave if officials hadn’t been able to repair a transmission line and reconnect to the grid.

The IAEA inspectors have said they were acutely aware that they are in a war zone.

“Having come so far, we are not stopping,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said Thursday, according to The Washington Post. “The risks are very, very high. Wish us luck.”

The inspectors want to examine the facility to determine if it’s still operating safely after being heavily damaged by weeks of fighting, which has included relentless shelling by Russian forces nearby. Ukraine has accused Moscow of using the plant basically as a shield, knowing that Ukrainian troops would be hesitant to return fire so close to the plant.

One of two working reactors had to be shut down at the plant after mortar shelling by Russian forces threatened to derail the IAEA mission, said officials at Energoatom, the plant’s operators.

Earlier Thursday, Grossi and his team were held up due to intensified bombing near the Zaporizhzhia plant, which has been under Russian control since March.

Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of purposely trying to delay the IAEA mission by targeting nearby Enerhodar, a city also under Russian control where there was continuous shelling early on Thursday. Both sides have blamed each other for bombing the route to the plant and Russia said that the shelling killed at least three people.

Severe damage to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Kyiv, Ukraine, is seen after one of the reactors exploded on April 26, 1986. The accident released large amounts of radiation and today the surrounding areas still aren’t safe to visit. BP Photo/File/INS

Both the Ukrainian and Russian governments have publicly supported sending IAEA inspectors to the plant, although some question whether Moscow’s backing is real or a public relations move.

Russia’s defense ministry released a statement assuring the safety of the 14-member inspection team and “full security for further work.”

En route to the plant in Zaporizhzhia, which is located in southeastern Ukraine on the banks of the Dnipro River, Grossi personally negotiated with Ukrainian military leaders to allow the team move ahead, according to an IAEA spokesperson.

Grossi had acknowledged there were “inherent risks” in venturing 300 miles away from the capital Kyiv to carry out the mission, but he said his inspectors have a “very important mission to accomplish.”

“We know there is a grey area where the last line of Ukrainian defense and the first line of the Russian occupying forces begins, where the risks are significant,” Grossi said according to Deutsche Welle. “I believe we have to process with this.”

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was built in the 1980s and the first reactor went online in 1985. The facility has six light water nuclear reactors and provides more than half of Ukraine’s total output of nuclear power.

The main concern is that the fighting in the area could compromise the plant’s integrity and lead to a dangerous release of radiation, which would almost certainly be deadly for the entire region.

When Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded in 1986, it released so much radiation that it was detected in Sweden almost immediately. Experts and officials say the same thing could happen with the Zaporizhzhia plant.

The chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine warned both sides that it was “time to stop playing with fire.”

“When hazardous sites become battlegrounds, the consequences for millions of people and the environment can be catastrophic and last many years,” the chief said according to CNN.

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