UN atomic watchdog urges safety zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant

The United Nations atomic watchdog on Tuesday urged Russia and Ukraine to establish a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the Zaporizhzhia power plant amid fears of possible fighting. causing disaster in a country still haunted by the Chornobyl disaster.

In a report following the inspection team’s visit last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said “the shelling on the spot and in the vicinity should be stopped immediately to avoid any damage.” further harm to the plant and related facilities, for the safety of the operating personnel and to maintain physical integrity to support safe and secure operations.”

“This requires the agreement of all parties involved on the establishment of a safe and protected nuclear security zone” around the plant, it said.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, who led the inspection team last week, will notify the UN Security Council in advance of his findings late Tuesday.

Shelling continued around Europe’s largest nuclear plant on Tuesday, a day after it again knocked down Ukraine’s power grid and put it in a precarious position of having to rely on into their own energy sources to operate safety systems.

Typically, the plant relies on external power to operate critical cooling systems to keep its reactors and spent fuel from overheating. Loss of those cooling systems could lead to another meltdown or radioactivity.

Paul Dorfman, a nuclear safety expert at the University of Sussex in the UK, said: “For radiation protection professionals, for Ukrainians and even Russians, and for those in Central Europe. This is a very worrying time – and that’s an understatement.

Russian-installed officials accuse Ukrainian forces of shelling Enerhodar, the city where the plant is located, while Ukrainians say Kremlin forces have attacked the city of Nikopol, across the Dnieper River from the factory. electricity.

The Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, reported a powerful explosion in the city around midday. The explosion caused the city of 53,000 people to cut off electricity and water supplies. The cause of the explosion is still unknown.

World leaders have called for the demilitarization of the plant, which has been occupied by Russian troops since the early days of the war but is being run by Ukrainian engineers.

In its report, the IAEA did not attribute responsibility for the shelling of the plant. The agency sought to avoid political conflict.

It noted that in some cases, the plant lost, completely or partially, its off-site power supply due to military operations in the area. The UN agency said the backup power supply line needed to be re-established and ordered “all military activities that may affect the power supply system to cease.”

In addition, the IAEA also warned that Ukrainian employees operating the plant under Russian military occupation are “under constant high pressure and stress, especially with a limited number of staff” – a situation that situations that could “lead to an increase in human error with nuclear safety implications.”

It is recommended to re-establish “an appropriate work environment, including family support”.

IAEA members walk while inspecting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Enerhodar on September 1. Ukrainian intelligence says residents of Enerhodar have fled the city out of fear. (Press service of the Russian Ministry of Defense via Associated Press)

The IAEA also said that employees are not allowed unrestricted access to certain parts of the plant and must obtain permission from the Russian occupation forces to access cooling ponds, where spent fuel is stored. use. Grossi expressed concern that that could hinder staff response in the event of an emergency.

The report said the team saw Russian servicemen, vehicles and equipment at various locations, including several military trucks on the floor of two turbine halls. It calls for “moving vehicles from areas that may interfere with the operation of safety and security systems and equipment.”

Two inspectors from the IAEA mission remained at the plant, a decision welcomed by Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.

“There are Russian militaries now that don’t understand what’s going on, don’t assess the risks correctly,” Podolyak said. “There were some of our workers there who needed some kind of protection, people from the international community who took their side and said to (Russian military): ‘Don’t touch these people, let them do the work.'”

‘Any repair is not possible at this time’

Bullets on the grounds of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on September 1. (Press Service of the Ministry of Defense of Russia / Associated Press)

On Monday, the IAEA said Ukrainian authorities had reported that the plant’s last transmission line connecting it to the national power grid had been cut off to allow workers to put out fires caused by shelling.

Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told Ukrainian television: “Any repair is not possible at this point – there is hostility going on around the plant.”

Meanwhile, the plant’s only remaining operational reactor will “generate the energy the plant needs for safety and other functions,” the IAEA said.

That means the plant could be operating in “island mode”, or producing electricity solely for its own operations, says Mycle Schneider, an independent Canadian analyst on nuclear energy. .

“The island mode is a very shaky, unstable and unreliable way to provide uninterruptible power to a nuclear plant,” says Schneider. He said that “many if not most island attempts have failed.”

The Zaporizhzhia plant has diesel emergency backup generators to generate electricity that runs to the site if external power is interrupted. But Schneider said plant operators may have decided to switch to island mode first.

If the plant switched to diesel generators and they failed, the reactor and spent fuel could overheat quickly, he said.

Experts say the reactors in Zaporizhzhia are designed to withstand natural disasters and even plane crashes, but unpredictable skirmishes have repeatedly threatened to disrupt the cooling system. Ukraine in 1986 was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, the explosion in Chornobyl.

A room in a ruined school, in the deserted town of Pripyat, about 3 kilometers from the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, on April 5, 2017. Ukraine in 1986 was the site of a nuclear accident the world’s worst, the Chornobyl explosion. (Efrem Lukatsky / The Associated Press)

Ukrainian intelligence says residents of Enerhodar fled the city out of fear. Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk said that Russia should organize safe corridors for women and children living nearby.

“The mass people are contacting us for help. They are trying to leave dangerous territory, but there is no corridor,” Vereshchuk told Ukraine TV.

Meanwhile, gunfire and explosions were heard in the afternoon in the Russian-occupied city of Berdyansk in southeastern Ukraine, as Russian state media reported that the vehicle of the “city commander” was driven by the Kremlin. installation was blown up. RIA Novosti news agency said official Artem Bardin was in a serious condition and a shooting took place after the assassination.

The news agency quoted Russian-backed local officials as saying they had launched a manhunt for the “Ukrainian saboteurs” responsible.

In the area south of Kherson, occupied by the Russians since the beginning of the war, Ukrainian forces continued to counterattack. Ukrainian authorities said a pontoon bridge blew up overnight and a command center and two checkpoints collapsed.

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