Ukrainian official calls for UN monitors to visit Russian-occupied nuclear plant
By Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Maria Varenikova
Amid Ukrainian concerns that Russia was endangering security at a nuclear power plant it controls, a senior representative of Ukraine’s atomic energy company said Tuesday that international inspectors should visit the facility, where shellfire has damaged a storage facility for nuclear fuel.
The statement by an official of Energoatom, a Ukrainian state-run company, appeared to be a departure from the Ukrainian government’s stance, which has been that it would welcome a visit to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex only after its forces regain control of it. The facility, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, was seized by Russian forces in early March shortly after they invaded Ukraine.
But calls for a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, have intensified amid mounting global concern over the possibility of an accident.
Russian forces stationed artillery and other weapons at the complex and last month began shelling the nearby city of Nikopol from positions at the facility, according to Ukrainian regional officials. That made it almost impossible for Ukraine to fight back, given the risk of striking the reactor.
On Saturday, rocket fire struck near a dry spent-fuel storage facility containing 174 casks, each with 24 assemblies of spent nuclear fuel. One person was wounded by shrapnel, and windows were damaged. Ukrainian and Russian officials blamed each other for the attack. Nikopol was again hammered Monday night with rocket artillery.
The director-general of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said he had “grave concern” about the episode Saturday and called for inspectors to be allowed in.
The representative of Energoatom to the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Yevhen Tsymbaliuk, said Tuesday that IAEA inspectors should visit the Zaporizhzhia facility by the end of August.
“We will use all diplomatic channels available to us in order to bring the IAEA and the U.N. closer to the implementation of this mission,” he said. “We really need this visit to take place urgently.”
Russia has said for weeks that it was open to such a visit, which would demonstrate its control of the facility. Last Friday, Moscow’s ambassador to the IAEA and other U.N. agencies in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, sent a note to diplomats “in which we expressed readiness to assist the agency in organizing an international mission to the plant,” he said.
But there remain several sticking points, including how the monitors would reach the facility. Ukraine does not want them to go via Moscow, which would underscore Russia’s control over the plant. And there are security concerns about gaining access to the plant through the front lines.
A Russian official in the region said that the station was “operating in routine mode” but that Moscow would deploy more air defense systems to protect the plant “following attacks by the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
Ukraine’s government has been reluctant to call for an inspection of the Zaporizhzhia plant out of concern that it might appear to lend legitimacy to Russia’s presence on a part of its sovereign territory, according to Ulrich Kühn, the head of the arms control and emerging technologies program at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg.