The United Nations nuclear regulatory agency on Tuesday urged Russia and Ukraine to establish a “nuclear safe and secure protection zone” around the Zaporizhia power plant amid mounting fears the fighting could unleash a disaster in a country still reeling from the disaster is marked by Chernobyl.
We are playing with fire and something very, very catastrophic could happen,” Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned the UN Security Council days after conducting an inspection visit to the plant.
In a detailed report on their visit, the IAEA called for the shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to be stopped immediately. “This requires the approval of all relevant parties to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the facility, it said.
At the Security Council meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also demanded that Russian and Ukrainian forces commit to halting all military activities around the plant and agree on a “demilitarized perimeter”.
Guterres said this would include “a commitment by Russian forces to withdraw all military personnel and equipment from this perimeter and a commitment by Ukrainian forces not to move there.”
When asked by reporters about the establishment of a demilitarized zone, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the proposal was “not serious”.
“The Ukrainians will intervene immediately and ruin the whole thing. We defend, we protect the station,” he said. “In fact, it is not militarized. There is no equipment on the station.”
In a later conversation with journalists, Nebenizia said Russia wanted to see details on the proposals for demilitarized zones and safe zones.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country must work out the details of the safe zone proposal and could support the measure if it envisages the demilitarization of the facility.
In his late-night address to the nation, Zelenskyy praised the IAEA report’s “clear indications” of the presence of Russian troops and military equipment at the plant. He urged the agency to strongly support Kiev’s long-held position that Russian forces must withdraw from the facility and its vicinity.
Shelling continued around the plant on Tuesday, a day after it was once again disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid and left in a precarious position to rely on its own energy to run its security systems.
The facility normally relies on outside power to run the critical cooling systems that keep its reactors and spent fuel assemblies from overheating. Failure of these systems could result in a meltdown or other release of radiation.
“For radiation protection professionals, for the Ukrainian and even the Russian people and for Central Europe, this is a very worrying time – and that is an understatement,” said Paul Dorfman, a nuclear safety expert at the University of Sussex in England.
Russia and Ukraine accused each other of shelling Enerhodar, the city where the power plant is located. The Ukrainians also accused Kremlin forces of firing on a city across the Dnieper from the power plant.
The Ukrainian Mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, reported a massive explosion in the city around noon. The blast cut off electricity and water supplies to the city of 53,000 people. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.
World leaders have called for the demilitarization of the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since the war began but is run by Ukrainian engineers.
In its report, the IAEA did not assign any blame for the shelling of the facility. The agency has tried to stay out of the political fray.
It found that the plant had lost all or part of its external power supply on multiple occasions due to military activity in the area. The UN agency said an emergency power line should be restored and called for “all military activity that could affect power systems to cease”.
In addition, the IAEA warned that Ukrainian personnel operating the facility under Russian military occupation are “under constant high levels of stress and pressure, particularly given the limited staff available” – a situation leading to “increased human error with nuclear implications.” safety could result. ”
It recommended restoring “a decent work environment, including family support.”
The IAEA also said personnel are not given full access to some parts of the facility and must obtain permission from the Russian occupying forces to reach the cooling ponds, where spent fuel is stored. Grossi expressed concern that this could hamper staff response in the event of an emergency.
According to the report, the team saw Russian military personnel, vehicles and equipment in various locations, including several military trucks on the floor of two turbine halls. It called for “the removal of vehicles from areas that could interfere with the operation of security systems and equipment.”
Two inspectors from the IAEA mission remained at the plant, a decision welcomed by Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak.
“There are now Russian troops who don’t understand what’s happening, who don’t correctly assess the risks,” Podolyak said. “There are a number of our workers there who need some kind of protection, people from the international community standing by their side and saying (to Russian troops), ‘Don’t touch these people, let them work.'”
On Monday, the IAEA said Ukrainian authorities reported that the plant’s final transmission line, which connects it to the country’s power grid, was disconnected to allow workers to put out a fire caused by shelling.
Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told Ukrainian TV: “At this point repairs are impossible – there is ongoing hostilities around the plant.”
In the meantime, the plant’s only remaining operational reactor “will generate the power the plant needs for its safety and other functions,” the IAEA said.
Mycle Schneider, an independent nuclear energy analyst in Canada, said the plant is likely to operate in “island mode” or produce electricity for its own use.
“Island mode is a very shaky, unstable and unreliable method of continuously powering a nuclear power plant,” Schneider said. He said that “many, if not most, island attempts fail.”
The Zaporizhzhia plant has diesel backup generators to generate electricity to run the place if the external source is cut off. But Schneider said operators at the facility may have decided to switch to island mode first.
If the plant turns to the diesel generators as a last resort and they fail, the reactor and spent fuel could quickly overheat, he said.
Experts say the reactors at Zaporizhia are designed to withstand natural disasters and even plane crashes, but unpredictable fighting has repeatedly threatened cooling systems. Ukraine was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, the Chernobyl explosion.
Ukrainian intelligence reported that residents of Enerhodar fled the city in fear. Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia should organize safe corridors for women and children living nearby.
“People are attacking us en masse for help. They are trying to leave the dangerous area, but there are no corridors,” Vereshchuk told Ukrainian TV.
Meanwhile, gunshots and explosions were heard in the Russian-held city of Berdyansk in southeastern Ukraine on Tuesday afternoon, with Russia’s state media reporting that the car of the Kremlin’s “city commander” had been blown up. RIA Novosti news agency said that officer Artem Bardin is in serious condition and that a shootout broke out after the assassination.
The agency quoted Russian-backed local officials as saying they had launched a manhunt for the “Ukrainian saboteurs” responsible.
https://www.independent.ie/news/un-agency-calls-for-safety-zone-around-ukraine-nuclear-plant-41967959.html UN agency calls for security zone around nuclear power plant in Ukraine