Kiev, Ukraine (AP) – A team from the UN nuclear agency has arrived at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to inspect safety conditions, the agency and Ukraine’s nuclear power operator said on Thursday, amid fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces that led to the shutdown of one reactor.
Enerhoatom said the International Atomic Energy Agency team, led by director Rafael Grossi, arrived at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which has been in the thick of recent fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces more than six months after the Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.
The company said earlier Thursday that Russian mortar shelling had resulted in the shutdown of one of its reactors by its emergency protection system and damaged a backup power supply used for internal needs. One of the plant’s reactors that was not operating had switched to diesel generators, Enerhoatom said.
⚡ IAEA’s support and assistance mission to: #Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ) headed by Director General @RafaelMGrossi has just arrived at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant to perform vital nuclear safety and security and safeguards checks.
— IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency (@iaeaorg) September 1, 2022
Ukraine and Russia blame heavy shelling that temporarily delayed the team’s movements to the sprawling factory on the left bank of the Dnieper River in an area controlled by Russian troops. The fighting underscored the risks faced by the team of UN inspectors that hoped to assess the plant’s safety.
“There has been more military activity, including this morning until recently,” Grossi said, adding that after being briefed by the Ukrainian military, he decided to move despite the inherent risks. “But once we weigh the pros and cons and have come this far, we’re not going to stop.”
Grassi, who personally negotiated with the Ukrainian authorities to allow the passage of the team, previously noted that the risks were “very, very high” in the so-called gray zone between Ukrainian and Russian positions, but “we believe that we have the minimum conditions to take action.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said some Ukrainian shells landed 400 meters from the plant’s reactor No. 1. clear checkpoints and reach the site.
Neither side’s version of events could be independently verified immediately.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow expects “impartiality” from the team.
“We are taking all necessary steps to ensure that the plant is safe, that it functions safely and that the mission is carrying out all its plans there,” he said.
The factory in Zaporizhzhia is occupied by Russian troops, but has been run by Ukrainian engineers since the early days of the 6-month-old war. Ukraine alleges that Russia uses the factory as a shield, stores weapons there and launches attacks from the area, while Moscow accuses Ukraine of reckless firing in the area.
Fighting at the beginning of March caused a brief fire in the training complex and in recent days the plant has been temporarily taken offline due to damage, increasing fears of a radiation leak or reactor failure. Officials have started handing out anti-radiation iodine tablets to local residents.
“We have a very important mission to accomplish,” Grossi said, adding that “we will immediately begin an assessment of the security and safety situation at the plant.”
“I will consider the possibility of establishing a continued IAEA presence at the plant, which we believe is indispensable to stabilize the situation and to receive regular, reliable, impartial and neutral updates on what is happening there. is,” he said. .
The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukrainian forces unleashed artillery fire in the area and then sent a group of up to 60 scouts to try to seize control of the nuclear power plant.
It said Ukrainian troops arrived in seven speedboats, landed three kilometers northeast of the plant on the left bank of the Dnieper River and tried to seize it. The ministry said Russian forces have “taken steps to destroy the enemy”, deploying combat aircraft. The Russian army said its forces also destroyed two ships carrying Ukrainian troops trying to land near the factory.
“The provocation by the Kiev regime is intended to derail the arrival of the IAEA group at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” the ministry said in a statement.
Alexander Volga, head of Enerhodar’s Russian-installed city government, also said Ukrainian troops attempting to land had been “blocked and destroyed”. The government also said at least three local residents were killed and one injured in Ukrainian shelling early Thursday.
The fighting came as war-torn Ukraine Thursday attempted to start the new academic year in the best possible way, with civilian areas still threatened by artillery fire and other weaponry – and children still among the victims. Just over half of schools in Ukraine reopened for personal education despite the risks.
In other developments:
– A US intelligence assessment said Russia faced severe staff shortages as President Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine continues.
– North Korea said it is considering sending construction workers to help rebuild parts of Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine battered by the fighting.
– The aid organization under the Russian-backed separatist government in the eastern region of Donetsk said on Thursday 13 emergency services were killed and nine others injured by Ukrainian shelling in Rubtsi, a village in neighboring Kharkov province. Much of the fighting over the past weeks and months has focused on the area.
– Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, warned that any action that could be seen as endangering a Russian contingent in neighboring Moldova, which Moscow considers peacekeepers, would be considered an attack on Russia itself. His comments underlined concerns that the separatist Transnistria region of Moldova could become involved in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine