Vienna, 22 Apr. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is “deeply concerned” by the increase in fighting around the Ukrainian atomic plant in Zaporizhia and the possible escalation that the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive could trigger at the site.
The experts from the agency’s mission who are in Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, “have heard bombardments almost every day for the last week,” explains the IAEA director general, the Argentine Rafael Grossi, in a statement published on the night of Friday to this Saturday.
Even at a certain point, international experts “were asked to seek refuge,” he adds.
Located in the eponymous oblast (province) of south-eastern Ukraine, the Zaporizhia plant (ZNPP) was occupied by Russian troops in March 2022.
Following Russia’s illegal annexation of the region in September, it is controlled by a corporation run by Russian operator Rosatom, although some Ukrainian technicians who have been offered new contracts remain at the plant.
The plant has been subjected to periodic bombardments that have caused power outages on several occasions, during which emergency supply with diesel generators was activated.
Although all the reactors are shut down as a precaution, the IAEA considers that there is still a high risk of a nuclear accident, which is why it has urged the two parties to create a demilitarized zone around the facility.
The concern of the experts has increased before the expected counteroffensive of Ukraine to recover its territories.
“I saw clear signs of military preparations in the area when I visited the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant just over three weeks ago,” Grossi said in the statement.
“Since then, our on-site experts have frequently reported hearing detonations, sometimes suggesting heavy shelling not far from the site. I am deeply concerned about the situation at the plant,” he stressed.
There is also concern that a reduction in staff and the absence of necessary external contractors, as well as a lack of spare parts, are having a negative impact on the plant’s maintainability.
“Currently, ZNPP only has a quarter of its regular maintenance staff”, so “it does not have a systematic maintenance and inspection program in service”.
All of this “further underlines the serious nuclear security risks faced by the largest nuclear power plant in Europe during the military conflict, at a time when speculation is growing about imminent military offensives and counter-offensives in the southern region of Ukraine,” Grossi points out. EFE
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