UN Team on Way to Assess Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant  

Fears of radiation leaks remain at Zaporizhzhia, but International Atomic Energy Agency says Ukraine reports the facility remains operational

The head of the U.N.’s atomic energy agency said it has a team on the way to visit Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, situated near the front line of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi tweeted that he is leading the team that will be at the power plant “later this week.”

“We must protect the safety and security of #Ukraine’s and Europe’s biggest nuclear facility,” Grossi said.

The IAEA said the mission will focus on assessing physical damage at the plant, determining the functionality of safety and security systems, evaluating staff conditions and performing “urgent safeguards activities.”

Russia has controlled the plant site since early in its six-month invasion, but the plant is being operated by Ukrainian engineers.

Despite numerous attacks in the area that Russia and Ukraine have blamed on each other, Grossi said Ukraine has told the agency that “all safety systems remained operational and there had been no increase in radiation levels.”

Russia launched new rocket and artillery attacks near the facility early Sunday, with Ukrainian officials reporting significant damage.

Ukraine’s Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said that heavy firing during the night left parts of Nikopol, about 10 kilometers from the nuclear site, without electricity. Rocket strikes damaged about a dozen homes in another nearby city, Marhanets.

The city of Zaporizhzhia, about 40 kilometers upriver from the nuclear facility, was also attacked, with city council member Anatoliy Kurtev saying two people were injured.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed Sunday that shells fired by Ukrainian forces fell near buildings storing reactor fuel and radioactive waste.

The U.S. State Department accused Russia of blocking a consensus document on a nuclear non-proliferation treaty because the agreement noted the risk posed by fighting near the Zaporizhzhia plant.

“For the Russian Federation to not accept such language in the face of overwhelming international consensus underscores the need for the United States and others to continue urging Russia to end its military activity near ZNPP and return control of the plant to Ukraine,” the statement said. 

Moscow said it supports the work of the IAEA but has refused to withdraw its soldiers from the complex to create a demilitarized zone.

An engineer working under Russian occupation since March 4 at the Zaporizhzhia power plant has told VOA that Russian forces have placed artillery and missile installations within and around the property.

The engineer, whose identity is being withheld for fear of retaliation by the occupying authorities, supports Ukrainian government claims that Russia itself is responsible for the explosions.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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