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Situation “Untenable” at Ukrainian Nuclear Plant

The UN’s nuclear watchdog has called for a security zone around the damaged Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Last week, a 14-member team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the Russian-occupied nuclear power plant for a safety check, and has now published its findings.

The situation around the nuclear power plant in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya is “untenable,” the IAEA said in a report published on Tuesday, September 6th. For weeks, the plant and its surrounding area have seen shelling, with both Ukraine and Russia trading accusations. The watchdog writes that “pending the end of the conflict and re-establishment of stable conditions” it is vitally urgent that “interim measures” be taken immediately.

First and foremost, according to the IAEA, a demilitarized security zone must be established to guarantee the safe functioning of the nuclear power plant so that a nuclear disaster can be averted. The agency shows itself willing to initiate consultations between the parties involved to achieve that end, it says. 

With that conclusion, it joins Ukrainian President Zelensky and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who had already advanced the notion of establishing such a security zone. Russia has consistently spurned that suggestion.

The IAEA went on to point out the plight of the nuclear power plant’s limited Ukrainian personnel, who work under constant “stress and pressure:” conditions that are “unsustainable” because they increase the chances of human errors occurring. 

The investigators also write that they witnessed Russian military equipment being placed in the vicinity of nuclear reactors. Citing obvious safety concerns, they are requesting such equipment to be immediately removed.

While it did not specify which party was responsible, the IAEA reports that the team “closely witnessed shelling in the vicinity of the power plant, in particular on 3 September when the team was instructed to evacuate to the ground level of the administrative building.”

That same day, the plant was disconnected from its one remaining main external power line, and had to rely on a reserve to continue supplying electricity to the grid. The IAEA recommended any and all shelling cease immediately, so as to “avoid any further damages to the plant and associated installations.” 

While the agency expressed relief that the ongoing shelling had not yet brought about a nuclear emergency, it warns that it “continues to represent a constant threat,” which may lead to “radiological consequences.” 

The report did not assign blame to either party for any damage already done to the complex: a turbine lubrication oil tank and the roofs of various buildings were evidently impaired by shelling.

The team was personally led by Rafael Grossi, chief executive of the IAEA. Since last week, an agreement has been reached with Moscow, allowing for the presence of two inspectors from the IAEA; these will continue monitoring the situation. 

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak applauded that agreement, saying that Russian troops there “do not understand what is happening, and do not assess the risks correctly.” He worried about the Ukrainian workers still there “who need some kind of protection, people from the international community standing by their side and telling [Russian troops]: ‘Don’t touch these people, let them work.’”

Photo: IAEA

Hours after the team’s findings were published, UN chief Antonio Guterres addressed the Security Council in its New York headquarters. He urged both Russia and Ukraine to agree to a demilitarized perimeter around the nuclear power plant. 

Sounding off in response to the report, Konstantin Kosachev, deputy speaker of Russia’s Federation Council, told TASS (A Russian news agency) that while he welcomed cooperation with the IAEA, the “major task” had yet to be done. According to Kosachev, Ukraine firstly needs to be made to stop its attacks on the plant, faulting the IAEA for its lack of courage in not stating this. 

The Kremlin has yet to make an official statement.

Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.