UN nuclear watchdog head: Establishing safety zone around Ukraine nuclear plant an ‘urgent imperative’

AP Photo/File
FILE – A Russian serviceman guards an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, May 1, 2022. Ukrainians are once again anxious and alarmed about the fate of a nuclear power plant in a land that was home to the world’s worst atomic accident in 1986 at Chernobyl. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, has been occupied by Russian forces and continued fighting nearby has heightened fears of a catastrophe that could affect nearby towns in southern Ukraine or beyond.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a statement on Saturday warning of unsafe conditions at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).

The power plant, located in southeast Ukraine, has been under the control of Russian troops since their invasion of the country in February.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced that shelling this weekend disconnected the plant from its last remaining external power source and that it is now relying on emergency diesel generators.

“The resumption of shelling, hitting the plant’s sole source of external power, is tremendously irresponsible. The Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant must be protected,” said Grossi in a statement.

The director said that he plans to travel to Russia and then return to Ukraine to facilitate a plan for a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the ZNPP, calling it “an absolute and urgent imperative.”

Sixteen generators switched into operation automatically after the power plant’s connection to its 750 kilovolt power line was cut off early on Saturday morning. Six of those generators remain active to provide the plant’s six reactors with electricity.

The ZNPP must be connected to electricity to maintain reactor cooling and other “essential nuclear safety and security functions.”

The plant in Zaporizhzhya has been at the forefront of concerns surrounding the Russo-Ukrainian war especially this month as Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to go to extreme measures to ensure his victory in the conflict.

Ukrainian President Voloydymr Zelensky urged his Western allies earlier this week to implement stricter “preventive” sanctions to warn Putin against deploying nuclear weapons.

President Joe Biden also took Putin’s remarks seriously, saying that the Russian leader is “not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.”

“We have not faced the prospect of armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Biden at a fundraiser on Thursday, acknowledging that the prospect from Russia is real.

Ukrainian operating staff told the IAEA that the diesel generators at the plant have fuel to last them at least 10 days as engineers attempt to repair the damaged power line.

All of the safety systems at the ZNPP “continue to receive power and are operating normally,” according to the staff.

Tags International Atomic Energy Agency Joe Biden nuclear threat President Joe Biden Rafael Mariano Grossi Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky

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