UN to inspect Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power Station in Ukraine is occupied by Russian forces (AP)
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power Station in Ukraine is occupied by Russian forces (AP)

The United Nations nuclear watchdog will inspect the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Rafael Grossi announced the news having spent several months seeking access to the nuclear power plant.

His announcement came hours after Russia and Ukraine traded claims of rocket and artillery strikes at or near the plant on Sunday, intensifying fears that the fighting could cause a massive radiation leak.

The facility was already temporarily knocked offline following a barrage of shelling last week.

“The day has come,” Grossi wrote on Twitter, adding that the Vienna-based IAEA’s “Support and Assistance Mission ... is now on its way.”

“We must protect the safety and security of #Ukraine’s and Europe’s biggest nuclear facility,” he wrote. “Proud to lead this mission which will be in #ZNPP later this week.” Grossi, who didn’t provide a more precise timeline or give further details, posted a picture of himself with 13 other experts.

Ukraine has alleged that Russia is essentially holding the plant hostage, storing weapons inside and launching attacks from around it.

Meanwhile, Moscow has accused Ukraine of recklessly firing on the facility. The Zaporizhzhia plant has six reactors.

The IAEA tweeted that the mission will assess physical damage to the facility, “determine functionality of safety & security systems” and evaluate staff conditions, among other things.

Attacks were reported over the weekend both in Russian-controlled territory adjacent to the plant along the left bank of the Dnieper River and along the Ukraine-controlled right bank, including the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, each about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the facility.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had attacked the plant twice over the past day, and that shells fell near buildings storing reactor fuel and radioactive waste.

“One projectile fell in the area of the sixth power unit, and the other five in front of the sixth unit pumping station, which provides cooling for this reactor,” Konashenkov said, adding that radiation levels were normal.

The IAEA reported on Sunday that radiation levels were normal, that two of the Zaporizhzhia plant’s six reactors were operating and that while no complete assessment had yet been made, recent fighting had damaged a water pipeline, since repaired.