Ukraine and Russia exchange blame for more shelling at Zaporizhzhya factory ahead of IAEA visit

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Ukraine and Russia blamed on Saturday for new shelling at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, underscoring the ongoing danger of fighting around the plant as the United Nations nuclear watchdog prepares to visit the site next week.

The fighting has raised alarms worldwide about the risk of a nuclear accident and prompted urgent calls from world leaders to allow international inspectors access to the facility. Russia has occupied the nuclear power plant – the largest in Europe – since March, although Ukrainian workers continue to operate the nuclear power plant. Explosions and fires in the area in recent days have resulted in the deaths of two workers and temporary power outages to and from the factory, causing massive power outages in nearby villages.

Restored power supply at Ukraine nuclear power plant clears way for UN visit

Russian forces attacked the facility “repeatedly” between Friday and Saturday afternoon, the Ukrainian nuclear power plant said in a statement on Saturday. “As a result of periodic shelling, the infrastructure of the power plant has been damaged, there is a risk of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and there is a high risk of fire,” the agency said.

Russian Grad rockets and artillery shells damaged homes, power lines and an education center in Nikopol, a town across the river from the Zaporizhzhya plant, and in neighboring villages, Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, said in a statement on Saturday. Telegram post. Residents told The Post they were without power for several hours.

Moscow, meanwhile, blamed Kiev’s armed forces for attacks on the nuclear power plant, claiming on Saturday that grenades fired by the Ukrainian army from the village of Marhanets had hit the nuclear plant’s territory three times the previous day.

Ukrainian troops fired 17 shells, Russia’s defense ministry claimed, with four hitting the roof of a building containing nuclear fuel and exploding 13 near nuclear fuel and solid radioactive waste depots.

None of the claims could be independently verified.

World leaders and nuclear experts worry that the fighting could compromise the plant’s cooling systems, causing a nuclear meltdown. Radioactive material leaking from the site could contaminate nearby areas and potentially blow over Ukraine’s borders, posing a silent threat to human health and the environment for years.

What you need to know about the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine?

Local authorities in the Zaporizhzhya region have started distributing potassium iodide tablets to residents in the event of such a leak. Officials stressed that people should only take them after a nuclear accident has occurred — not as a preventive measure. The pills can help prevent radioactive iodine from being taken up by the thyroid gland, reducing the risk of developing thyroid cancer later from exposure to radioactive material.

Radiation levels remained normal, Russian and Ukrainian authorities said.

Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear power company Energoatom has not only faced near-daily shelling and frayed infrastructure, but says the plant’s workers have also been subjected to intimidation, detention and torture by Russian forces controlling the facility. On Saturday, Energoatom accused the Russian armed forces of setting up a “torture chamber” in one of the factory’s underground bunkers to stamp out any disagreements among the workers.

The new allegations come just days before an expected visit to the facility by a team of nuclear experts led by International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the visit is critical so that the IAEA can inform the world that the presence of Russian troops at the plant is an “imminent threat to nuclear safety”.

But Ukrainian officials remain concerned that Russian troops will decontaminate the factory prior to the visit and intimidate workers into not telling the truth about Russian behavior, leading the IAEA to bless the safety protocols followed at the factory, in fact the Russian occupation presence legitimizes.

“The worst case scenario is when they come and say it’s best that the station is under Russian control” [and] in general, nuclear safety protocols are followed,” Kuleba said in an interview at the State Department. “This means the Russians are staying.”

Negotiations on the visit are being worked out between Grossi, Kuleba and their Russian counterparts. Moscow has insisted that Russian media be allowed to report on the IAEA’s visit — a demand Kuleba said Ukraine would likely accept as long as Ukrainian and international media also report on the visit.

“In principle, we have nothing against allowing media coverage, but we have to do it smartly and minimize the chances for the Russians to turn that into a propaganda event,” Kuleba said.

Although the factory is under Russian control, it is run by about 1,000 Ukrainian workers, which is less than 10 percent of the usual workforce. Some Ukrainian officials hope the IAEA will report abuses against factory workers, but Energoatom president Petro Kotin said the factory workers are unlikely to release information critical of Russia for fear of punishment.

“It’s a very big danger for them,” Kotin said in an interview.

Another sticking point in discussions about the IAEA visit has been how to ensure the safety of international inspectors while working in an active war zone – an issue likely to become even more pressing after the latest shelling around the factory.

“We bear the responsibility for the mission and we must protect them from a possible provocation or even false flag operation organized by the Russians,” Kuleba said.

Ukraine on Saturday renewed its appeal to Russian troops to withdraw from the factory. Moscow has said its troops are protecting the facility.

Russia late Friday blocked approval of the final document in a weeks-long review of the United Nations’ key nuclear disarmament treaty. The draft raised concerns about Russia’s military takeover of the Zaporizhzhya site.

The move was a blow to the efforts of delegates from 151 countries to support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the more than 50-year-old global agreement on nuclear non-proliferation. The treaty is reviewed every five years at a UN conference.

Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy director of arms control and non-proliferation at the Russian Foreign Ministry, told the assembled officials that the final draft statement of this review cycle failed to reach “equilibrium.”

“Our delegation has one major objection to some paragraphs that are obviously political in nature,” he said.

The 36-page document contained four paragraphs about the Zaporizhzhya plant, expressing “serious concern” about Ukraine’s loss of control and support for the IAEA’s efforts to inspect the plant.

Officials from several countries lamented countries’ inability to reach consensus at a time of heightened nuclear threat, with some sharper words towards Moscow.

“We were unable to reach a consensus document because of the inexplicable choice of one state,” Adam Scheinman, the US Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation, said. wrote on Twitter Friday night. “The US deeply regrets Russia’s refusal to recognize the dire situation in Ukraine. It’s absurd that Russia couldn’t.”

Separately, the State Department confirmed the death of another American in Ukraine.

“We are in contact with the family and offer all possible consular assistance,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Post. “Out of respect for the family at this difficult time, we have nothing more to add.”

The official urged US citizens not to travel to Ukraine because of the war and “the selection of US citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials”.

Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Russia’s Primorsky Krai region, said in a Telegram post Friday that members of a military unit from his region had killed the American in a battle, CBS News reported. He said the man had fought on behalf of Ukraine and that he was killed “in the first clash literally immediately after arriving at the front line”.

The claims could not be independently verified.

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