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UN agency renews plea to secure nuclear plant after Russian takeover

By Carly Olson


The director of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog was visiting Kyiv on Thursday to continue talks about establishing a nuclear safety zone at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, a goal he said has become “more urgent than ever” since Russia said it would take over operational control of the facility.


The nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, has been entangled in a power struggle between Russia and Ukraine for months. Recurring shelling near the plant, which was seized by Russian forces in March but is still run by Ukrainian engineers, has raised concerns about a catastrophic meltdown, and the Kremlin’s announcement Wednesday that it would “nationalize” the plant has introduced even more uncertainty.


Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement Wednesday that he was traveling to Kyiv to discuss the status of the plant. He was expected to provide updates on the situation at a news conference later Thursday. He has said he also planned to make a trip to Russia to discuss the matter but did not specify when.


The Zaporizhzhia power plant is close to the battlefront, on a Russian-controlled bank of the Kakhovka reservoir, with Ukrainian forces stationed on the opposite bank. The IAEA has had two staff members stationed there since September to independently assess its safety.


It has called for the establishment of a “safety and security protection zone” around the facility, but it does not have the authority to order a cease-fire or to demand that Russian forces leave the plant. Grossi said last month that there were active negotiations with both Ukraine and Russia to end military actions in and around the plant, though he has offered few details.


On Wednesday, the Kremlin published a decree from President Vladimir Putin saying that he was nationalizing the facility and that Russia would take over operating it. Russia claims the plant is now in Russian territory and should be under its control after its illegal annexation of the Zaporizhzhia region and three others this week.


Ukrainian officials Wednesday condemned the attempted takeover of the plant and said that they would continue to manage it, although as a practical matter it was not clear how that could be implemented while Russia has control of the plant.


“All further decisions regarding the operation of the station will be made directly at the central office of Energoatom,” Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company, Energoatom, said Wednesday.


Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry urged the European Union, the Group of 7 and other allies to impose sanctions on Russia’s state nuclear power company, Rosatom. It further called on member countries of the IAEA to limit cooperation with Russia.


Separately Wednesday, the IAEA said that it had learned that the plant plans to restart one of its six reactors. In September, the last operating reactor was shut off over safety concerns as fighting continued nearby. The plant, at full operation, provided about one-fifth of Ukraine’s electricity supply.

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