Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog headed to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant Monday as shelling around the facility continues — escalating fears of a radiation catastrophe.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi announced the highly anticipated trip to Europe’s largest nuclear plant on Twitter Sunday night, revealing that the mission will be arriving “later this week.”
“Assistance Mission to #Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ) is now on its way,” Grossi, who is leading the team, tweeted. “We must protect the safety and security of #Ukraine’s and Europe’s biggest nuclear facility.”
The IAEA tweeted separately that the agency’s inspectors would assess physical damage, evaluate the conditions in which staff are working at the plant and “determine functionality of safety & security systems.”
It would also “perform urgent safeguards activities,” a reference to keeping track of nuclear material.
The mission comes after two of Zaporizhzhia’s reactors were temporarily disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid for the first time in its history last week — sparking grave concern in a country haunted by the Chernobyl disaster.
Photos showed the stone-faced inspectors in IAEA-marked vests, accompanied by security officers, setting out on their mission to Ukraine from Vienna’s International Airport.
The Kremlin said on Monday the IAEA mission was “necessary” and urged the international community to pressure Ukraine to reduce military tensions at the plant.
Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian puppet government installed in the region, said that officials should use the opportunity to “provide evidence that Ukraine is behaving like a nuclear terrorist state.”
In a post on Telegram, Balitsky also accused Kyiv of shelling a town near the plant in a bid to disrupt the inspection.
However, he said he did not expect significant achievements from the visit and accused the IAEA of being “in the pocket” of the United States.
“As for the arrival of the IAEA, we do not expect great results. We understand that the Americans have all the European institutions in their pockets, which to a large extent work purely in the US interests. But in any case, we will ensure (the mission’s) safety,” the TASS news agency quoted Balitsky as saying in an interview on state television.
The Group of 7 leading industrialized countries on Monday welcomed the visit while Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned that the mission would “be the hardest in the history of IAEA.”
“We expect from the mission a clear statement of facts, of violation of all nuclear, of nuclear safety protocols. We know that Russia is putting not only Ukraine, but also the entire world at threat at the risk of nuclear accident,” Kuleba said in Stockholm.
Captured by Russian forces in March but still operated by Ukrainian staff, Zaporizhzhia has been a hotspot in the war, which entered its sixth month this month.
The UN, the US and Ukraine have all called for a withdrawal of military equipment and personnel from the nuclear complex to ensure it is not a target. But the Kremlin has refused to withdraw its forces from the site.
Meanwhile, as fears of a Chernobyl-like nuclear disaster mount, Zaporizhzhia authorities have been handing out iodine tablets and teaching residents how to use them in case of a radiation leak.
Ukraine and Russia for months have been trading accusations of shelling the area surrounding the nuclear facility.
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff of Ukrainian President Zelensky, said late on Sunday on his Telegram channel that Russian forces again fired at Enerhodar — the town where Zaporizhzhia is loated.
“They provoke and try to blackmail the world,” Yermak said.
On Monday, Ukraine reported shelling in Nikopol, the city across the Dnipro river from the nuclear power plant. Authorities said one person was killed and five others were wounded.
In Enerhodar, just a few miles from the plant, the city’s Ukrainian mayor, Dmytro Orlov, blamed Russian shelling for injuries to at least 10 residents.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Ukraine of shelling in and around the plant.
“We believe that all countries must raise pressure on the Ukrainian side to force it to stop threatening the European continent by shelling the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and surrounding areas,” he said.
With Post Wires