IAEA urges halt to attacks on town near Ukrainian nuclear plant

(Reuters) - The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog called on Sunday for a halt to attacks on Enerhodar, a town near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station after drone strikes this week hit two electricity substations serving the area.

The plant's Russian-installed officials accused Ukraine of staging two drone strikes that destroyed one substation, damaged another and cut power to residents for a time.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made no reference to Ukraine and said the incidents had no affect on the Zaporizhzhia plant's operations.

But he said the attacks had to stop.

"Whoever is behind this, it must stop. Drone usage against the plant and its vicinity is becoming increasingly more frequent," Grossi said in a statement on the IAEA website.

"This is completely unacceptable and it runs counter to the safety pillars and concrete principles which have been accepted unanimously."

Power had been cut to Enerhodar, a few kilometres from the plant, for 16 hours, he said. But neither of the attacks, which occurred on Wednesday and Friday, had any impact on the power lines that the nuclear plant uses to keep operating.

The Zaporizhzhia plant's Russia-installed management said some "infrastructure facilities" including the transport department and print shop experienced disruptions, but that nuclear safety measures remained fully operational.

Ukrainian officials have made no comment on the incidents and Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the attacks exposed Ukraine's disregard for nuclear safety.

Russian troops seized the Zaporizhzhia plant in the early days of the February 2022 invasion, and Moscow and Kyiv have since regularly accused each other of endangering safety around the facility. It produces no electricity at the moment.

The IAEA maintains inspectors at the station.

Russia launched mass attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in the first winter of the conflict and resumed a long series of attacks in March. Kyiv says the renewed attacks have knocked out half of its energy-generating capacity.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by Bill Berkrot)