UN nuclear watchdog says Russia is denying access to Ukrainian power station

IAEA says it is first time it has been denied access to key parts of plant, including where reactor core and spent fuel are located

Arpan Rai
Thursday 04 January 2024 08:29 GMT
Ukraine’s nuclear plant situation is ‘really volatile’, UN nuclear chief says

Russia has denied UN inspectors access to some parts of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant it is occupying in Zaporizhzhia, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director general Rafael Grossi said inspectors at the plant have for the past two weeks been refused access to the main halls of reactors one, two and six.

Mr Grossi said the UN nuclear watchdog was also yet to receive 2024 maintenance plans for the facility, which is currently under Russia’s control.

Russia captured the Zaporizhzhia plant within days of invading Ukraine in February 2022, despite warnings that fighting in and around the nuclear facility could have dire consequences for the entire of Europe.

Six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, no longer produce electricity and Russia has repeatedly been accused of raising the risk of a catastrophic explosion by shelling targets around the station.

"This is the first time that IAEA experts have not been granted access to a reactor hall of a unit that was in cold shutdown," Mr Grossi said in a statement. "This is where the reactor core and spent fuel are located. The team will continue to request this access," he added.

The nuclear watchdog’s chief said inspectors had also been restricted in their access to turbine halls at the plant in southeastern Ukraine.

Mr Grossi said the plant’s operators had taken action to ensure back-up electricity supplies to the facility for occasions when its main external power line is severed, which he described as a "repeated" occurrence.

He has visited the plant three times since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022, despite the region continuing to be a hotspot for fierce fighting between both sides, to check that safety regulations are still being implemented in the facility during wartime.

The IAEA chief has repeatedly asked Russia and Ukraine for an end to fighting in the vicinity of the facility to avoid any catastrophic accidents.

Authorities have warned that the power plant needs to cool its reactors and requires electricity to do so, and that shelling should therefore not target power infrastructure around the site.

Mr Grossi said that missiles and drones have flown close to two of Ukraine’s three nuclear power stations during the coure of the war – the other being Khmelnitskyi in the west – and added that IAEA staff continue to observe safety standards at these facilities.

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