International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Raphael Grossi warned on Tuesday that the situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhia nuclear power plant has become “completely out of control” since Russian troops seized the facility in March.
“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated,” Grossi said warned. “You have a list of things that should never happen at any nuclear facility.”
Zaporizhzhia is the largest operational nuclear power plant in Europe. The factory is located in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, Ukraine were confiscated by Russian forces on March 3, in a battle that set fire to a nearby training facility.
The list of disturbing behaviors Grossi cites is long indeed. First, the power plant is still operating, under the direction of the head of the IAEA is described as a “paradoxical situation”: Russia controls Zaporizhia, but its original Ukrainian crew still handles operations, and the two groups do not work together smoothly.
Grossi said his agency had only “flawed” and “failed” communications with Ukrainian personnel and could not guarantee they were receiving all the supplies they needed.
In addition, fighting remains ongoing around the nuclear plant, including artillery exchanges that have come dangerously close to the plant’s six reactors. Ukrainian and US officials accuse Russia of using the facility as a base to attack Ukrainian forces, apparently convinced that the Ukrainians would not dare return fire at a nuclear plant.
“There are credible reports, including in the media today, that Russia is using this plant as the equivalent of a human shield, but a nuclear shield in the sense that it is firing at Ukrainians from around the plant, and of course the Ukrainians cannot and will not fire lest a terrible nuclear plant accident,” Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken charged on Monday.
The Russians, in turn, accuse Ukraine of attacking the plant deliberately with US-supplied weapons, while Russian troops bravely defend it. Grossi complained that both Russia and Ukraine were reluctant to let the IAEA visit the site.
“I insisted from day one that we should be able to go there to do this safety and security assessment, do the repairs and help as we already did in Chernobyl,” he said, referring to excellent reason because they didn’t trust the Russians to manage an inconvenient nuclear plant in a war zone.
“The IAEA needs to go to Zaporizhia, as it did to Chernobyl, to establish the facts of what is really happening there, to carry out repairs and inspections, to prevent a nuclear accident,” Grossi said. he said.
“The IAEA, with its presence, will be a deterrent to any act of violence against this nuclear plant. So I’m begging as an international civil servant, as the head of an international organization, I’m begging both sides to let this mission go ahead,” he said.
More artillery fire was mentionted on Thursday in Nikopolis, located across the Dnipro River from Zaporizhzhia. Russian rockets hit fifty residential buildings and downed power lines, leaving Nikopoli without power.