Ukraine-Russia conflict: nuclear watchdog offers to travel to Ukraine to broker a deal
Image credit: Lumppini/Dreamstime
The head of the UN’s nuclear energy watchdog has offered to travel to Ukraine to broker a deal with Russia and avoid further damage to radioactive power plants during the conflict.
In the early hours of Friday morning, Ukrainian authorities reported a Russian projectile hit its Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, which sparked a fire.
After burning for at least four hours amid reports Russian troops had prevented emergency teams from attending to the blaze, Ukrainian emergency services confirmed they extinguished the blaze at 6:20am local time.
Despite growing fears of a nuclear disaster following the news, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi assured there has been no release of radiation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant following the shelling and that while there was damage to the reactor compartment, the safety of the unit was not affected.
“All the safety systems of the six reactors at the plant were not affected at all and there has been no release of radioactive material,” he explained. “However, as you can imagine, the operator and the regulator have been telling us that the situation naturally continues to be extremely tense and challenging.”
Grossi has now proposed to both Kyiv and Moscow that he would meet political delegates to ensure key “principles” of nuclear safety are upheld during the fighting.
He said one of the seven principles for the safe use of nuclear energy – to ensure the “physical integrity” of a power plant – has been “compromised with what happened last night” in Zaporizhzhia, adding it was “fortunate” there was no radiation release on this occasion and it “could have been dramatic”.
“Bearing in mind what is happening and the risks that we may all incur if this continues without an enhancement and without recommitment to these principles, I have shown to both the Russian Federation and Ukraine my availability and disposition to travel to Chernobyl as soon as possible so that these seven crucial pillars are never again compromised,” he said.
In an update posted on social media after a briefing, the IAEA said Ukrainian officials had informed the watchdog that Russian forces had taken control of the Zaporizhzhia plant but that the safety systems of the site’s six reactors have not been affected.
In an emotional speech in the middle of the night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he feared an explosion at the Zaporizhzhia plant that would be “the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe.”
“Only urgent action by Europe can stop the Russian troops,” he warned. “Do not allow the death of Europe from a catastrophe at a nuclear power station.”
Boris Johnson has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council in light of the attack. Downing Street said the Prime Minister would directly raise the issue with the Kremlin after he spoke to President Zelensky in the early hours.
Ireland’s foreign affairs minister described the shelling of the nuclear power station as a “reckless act” and one that breaches international law.
The shelling of the plant came as the Russian military pressed its attack on a crucial energy-producing Ukrainian city and gained ground in their bid to cut off the country from the sea.
On Thursday (3 March), Ukraine asked the IAEA to seek NATO help with closing the air over Ukrainian nuclear sites to prevent acts of “nuclear terrorism” by Russia, Kyiv’s energy ministry said.
Earlier this week, Grossi had already warned that the IAEA was “gravely concerned” with Russian forces conducting military operations so close to Ukraine’s nuclear plants.
“It is of critical importance that the armed conflict and activities on the ground around Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and any other of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities in no way interrupt or endanger the facilities or the people working at and around them,” he said.
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