IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (2-L) and a team of inspectors are seen on Thursday at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine. The team reached the facility after a 300-mile journey from Kyiv, and Grossi said that there will be a constant IAEA presence at the plant for the foreseeable future. Photo courtesy D. Candano Laris/IAEA/EPA-EFE
Sept. 2 (BP) — There was more heavy fighting on Friday close to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine as United Nations inspectors assessed damage and said there will be a constant presence from now on.
A team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived at the Zaporizhzhia plant on Thursday and began to look for structural damage almost immediately.
Rafael Grossi, the head of the IAEA, said the plant has sustained some damage and the integrity of the facility has been violated multiple times. The team examined safety systems and control rooms at the plant during the initial round of inspections, officials said.
Grossi is part of a 14-member IAEA team that’s traveled through a dangerous war zone to reach the plant. The fact that they have done so, they say, underscores the urgency of the situation.
Fighting on Thursday led the plant’s operator to shut down one of the facility’s two working nuclear reactors, as a precaution. Built in the 1980s, the Zaporizhzhia plant has six light water nuclear reactors, but only two have been operating since the war began in February. Fighting in close proximity to the plant cut the plant off from the main power grid last week, presenting a serious danger. Workers were able to reconnect to the grid and avoid potential catastrophe.
The plant is located in southeastern Ukraine on the banks of the Dnipro River and has been under Russian control for months. The entire area, in fact, is held by Russian forces.
It’s taken months of negotiations to get IAEA inspectors to the Zaporizhzhia plant, and Grossi said that experts from the agency aren’t leaving anytime soon, promising a continued IAEA presence there.
“Military trucks, deployed in the turbine halls of power units in breach of all fire safety requirements, were presented to the IAEA experts as equipment of the chemical defense forces,” Ukraine’s nuclear power provider Energoatom said according to CNN. “The Russian military tries to hide all the nuclear and radiation safety violations.”
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant first opened in 1985 and has six light water nuclear reactors on the site. Only two have been in operation in recent months and only one was operating on Friday. File Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE
Alexander Volga, head of the Moscow-backed military-civil administration in Enerhodar, accused Ukraine of shelling near the plant during the IAEA team’s visit and said technicians had to restore damaged power lines.
Ukrainian officials rejected the accusation and said that Russian leaders are lying again about what’s happening on the ground. They pointed out that Russian forces have been shelling in the area near the plant for weeks, basically using it as a shield knowing that Ukrainian troops will be reluctant to return fire so close to the Zaporizhzhia facility.
Ukrainian officials have also repeatedly pointed out that the Russian military campaign has been constantly targeting civilians over the six months of fighting, something that Moscow has denied.
In northern Ukraine, Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Synyehubov accused Russian forces of hitting a sports facility early Friday. He said they targeted the Lokomotiv complex — which he called a “peaceful infrastructure” — with S-300 missiles.
“This is the world sports arena, where our champions in synchronized swimming trained,” Synyehubov said according to The Guardian. “World stars from various sports, medalists of the Olympic Games performed on these walls.
“The swimming pool, the modern boxing club, which was inaugurated only in February of this year, were destroyed. The Russians are once again committing terror against the civilian population.”
Britain’s Defense Ministry on Friday noted heavy fighting in various regions of Ukraine as Russia began a large-scale military exercise with military forces from China.
“Russia’s military performance in Ukraine has highlighted that Russia’s military-strategic exercises, such as Vostok, have failed to sustain the military’s ability to conduct large-scale, complex operations,” the ministry said in a tweet.