The International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday that it is “still gravely concerned” about the safety and security of Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, the Zaporizhzhia facility situated in the midst of intense fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in southern Ukraine.
“The current situation is untenable, and the best action to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and its people would be for this armed conflict to end now,” the United Nations nuclear agency said in a new report after IAEA chief Rafael Grossi and a team of inspectors visited the site last week even as shelling raged near the plant.
The IAEA said it found extensive damage at the plant but did not assign blame. Russia, whose forces have controlled the facility since early in its invasion, and Ukraine, whose engineers operate the plant, have each accused the other of shelling the facility.
The IAEA inspectors said they found Russian troops and equipment inside, including military vehicles parked near turbines.
“Ukrainian staff operating the plant under Russian military occupation are under constant high stress and pressure, especially with the limited staff available,” the IAEA report said. “This is not sustainable and could lead to increased human error with implications for nuclear safety.”
The U.N. nuclear agency said, “Pending the end of the conflict and re-establishment of stable conditions, there is an urgent need for interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident arising from physical damage caused by military means.”
The agency called for “the immediate establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the Zaporizhzhia site, an apparent call for something approximating a demilitarized zone in the vicinity of the power plant. It’s a buffer that world leaders have previously asked for, but the warring countries have not implemented.
The IAEA said it is ready to immediately start consultations “leading to the urgent establishment of such a nuclear safety and security protection zone.”
The agency said, “Despite the unprecedented circumstances” at Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s three other nuclear power plants — Khmelnytskyy, Rivne and South Ukraine — “have continued operating safely and securely since the beginning of the conflict” on February 24.
The IAEA said Grossi later Tuesday planned to brief the U.N. Security Council on its inspection of the Zaporizhzhia plant. The IAEA said two of its experts remain at the plant to “observe the situation there and provide independent assessments.”
Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company said Monday the Zaporizhzhia plant was disconnected from the electricity grid because of Russian shelling.
“Today, as a result of a fire caused by shelling, the [last working] transmission line was disconnected,” Energoatom said in a statement on Telegram.
Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko said on Facebook that Energoatom was not able to make repairs while fighting raged around the facility.
The IAEA said Ukraine informed the agency the backup power line itself was not damaged and that Ukrainian experts plan to reconnect power in the coming days.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video message Monday that the nuclear plant has again been put in a situation where it is “a step away from a radiation catastrophe.”
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.