Russia said it would not allow international inspectors access to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant despite concerns about the condition of Moscow-occupied Ukraine’s nuclear power plant.
Moscow and Kyiv are accusing each other of targeting the Zaporozhye plant in southern Ukraine, which has been under Russian control since March when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor.
The site has been hit by sporadic shelling for weeks This led to fires and damage to buildings in the sprawling facility.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, has said that while there is no immediate threat to nuclear security “it is subject to change at any time”.
“These military operations near such a large nuclear facility could have very serious consequences,” he told the UN Security Council at an emergency meeting on Thursday night.
However, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s special envoy for the International Mission in Vienna, told Izvestia in an interview published on Friday that Grossi was unlikely to visit before “the end of August or the beginning of September.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly warned that Russia’s control of nuclear power plants poses a radiation danger to Europe. “Only the Russians have completely withdrawn from the Zaporozhye region . . . Restoring Ukraine’s full control of the situation around the nuclear power plant will guarantee the restoration of nuclear security across Europe,” he said in his latest evening speech on Thursday.
But Russia has rejected demands to return control of the plant to Ukraine.
“The only way to ensure the safety of the factory is to have 100% control over it. The Ukrainian government has no right to do that,” Interfax news agency quoted Konstantin Kosachev, a senior member of the upper house of the Russian parliament, as saying.
Kosachev warned that allowing “any outsider without the necessary capabilities would risk further provocation.”
Ukraine is considering evacuating citizens around the power plant, a Kyiv official said.
The international call for access to the plant comes amid unconfirmed reports that power lines that could be used to divert the plant’s power to Russian-occupied areas such as the Crimean peninsula have been cut.
The plant’s two operating reactors remain connected to the Ukrainian grid.
For months, Russian troops have been shelling the nearby city of Nikopol from near the plant, while Ukraine said it had halted retaliatory fire for fear of damaging the plant.
About 500 Russian soldiers are stationed at the plant, Ukrainian officials said, and the Russians have prepared traps for the facility to prevent Ukraine from trying to retake it by force.
Spent fuel rods are stored in pools near the plant, whose six 950-megawatt reactors were used to generate about half of Ukraine’s nuclear power before the war.
The reactors are built with reinforced building materials and won’t suffer catastrophic damage from the wrong shell, according to Ukrainian engineers who worked on the plant’s design in the 1980s, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The real danger is if the power supply needed to keep the plants running is prolonged for a long time,” he said. “This raises a host of issues that can suddenly become very concerning, especially if plant engineers can’t continue to circulate the large amounts of water needed to keep nuclear reactions at predictable levels.”