Ukraine war: 'Situation at Europe's largest nuclear plant dangerous', says UN watchdog

Russia-occupied region Gov has ordered evacuation of town where most plant staff live

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (File) A view of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict outside the city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region | Reuters

The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog raised concerns about the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, the largest such facility in Europe. IAEA warned that the situation at the plant was potentially dangerous. 

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi raised concerns on Saturday about the plant's safety after the governor of the Russia-occupied region Enerhodar ordered the evacuation of the town where most plant staff live amid ongoing attacks in the area.

The plant is near the front lines of fighting, and Ukrainian authorities on Sunday said that a 72-year-old woman was killed and three others were wounded when Russian forces fired more than 30 shells at Nikopol, a Ukrainian-held town neighbouring the plant. Grossi said IAEA is closely monitoring the situation for any potential impact on nuclear safety and security.

“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous. I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant,” Grossi said in a statement. 

Grossi's comments were prompted by an announcement Friday by Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed governor of the partially-occupied Zaporizhzhia province, that he had ordered the evacuation of civilians from 18 settlements in the area, including Enerhodar, which is located next to the power plant. Grossi said IAEA experts at the nuclear site are continuing to hear shelling on a regular basis.

IAEA said, “ZNPP Site Director Yuri Chernichuk has publicly stated that operating staff are not being evacuated and that they are doing everything necessary to ensure nuclear safety and security at the plant, whose six reactors are all in shutdown mode.”

The Ukrainian General Staff said Sunday that the evacuation of Enerhodar had already begun. According to an update posted on Facebook, the General Staff said the first residents evacuated were those who took Russian citizenship following the capture of the town by Moscow early in the war. 

They were being taken to the Russia-occupied Azov Sea coast, about 200 kilometres (120 miles) to the southeast.

“We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequence for the population and the environment,” Grossi said. “This major nuclear facility must be protected. I will continue to press for a commitment by all sides to achieve this vital objective,” he added.

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