ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine – A UN inspection team entered Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday with the task of protecting it from the disaster, approaching the site amid a battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces that caused a nuclear reactor to explode. response must be closed and emphasize the urgency of the task.
The 14-member delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in a convoy of SUVs and trucks after months of negotiations to allow the experts to cross the front lines and get inside the largest nuclear plant. Europe.
“The IAEA is currently there at the plant and it is not moving. It will stay there. We will continue to be at the plant with some of my experts,” said IAEA Director Rafael Grossi, head of the mission, after the team got a first look at conditions inside.
But he added: “I will continue to worry about the factory until the situation stabilizes.”
As the experts advanced through the war zone toward the complex, Russia and Ukraine accused each other of shelling the area and trying to derail the visit. The skirmish delayed the team’s progress.
“There are moments when firepower is obvious — heavy machine guns, artillery, mortars two or three times are really worrying for all of us,” says Grossi.
Just before the IAEA team arrived, Energoatom, Ukraine’s national nuclear power company, said Russian mortar shelling had resulted in the shutdown of one of its reactors by an emergency protection system. supply and damage backup power supply lines used for indoor needs.
Energoatom said one of the plant’s dormant reactors has been converted to a diesel generator.
Once inside the plant, Grossi said, his experts were able to tour the entire site, including the control rooms, emergency systems and diesel generators. He said he met with factory employees and residents of a nearby village, Energodar, who asked him for help from the agency.
He reports that the team gathered important information during the initial inspection and will stay there to continue the assessment.
“It’s clear that plants and their physical integrity were compromised by accident, intentionally – we don’t have the factors to judge that,” Grossi said. “And this is why we are trying to put certain mechanisms and the presence, as I said, of our people there. “
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been occupied by Russian troops but has been run by Ukrainian engineers since the early days of the six-month war. Ukraine accuses Russia of using it as a shield to launch attacks, while Moscow accuses Ukraine of recklessly shelling the area.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had tough words for the IAEA delegation. While welcoming its arrival at the plant, he said independent journalists were not covered on the visit, allowing the Russians to present a one-way, “futile” tour.
And he said that while Grossi had agreed to support Ukraine’s demands for the demilitarization of the plant – including the withdrawal of Russian forces from it – the IAEA had not yet made such a call explicitly. public.
Fighting in early March caused a brief fire at its training complex, and in recent days the plant has been briefly knocked down for damage, raising concerns about leaks. radioactive leak or reactor failure. Officials have begun distributing anti-radiation iodine tablets to nearby residents.
Experts also expressed concern that Ukrainian employees were overworked and stressed by the Russian occupation of the plant – conditions that they said could lead to dangerous errors.
Grossi said after his first tour that the Ukrainian staff were “in a difficult situation, but they have an incredible level of professionalism. And I found them calm and moving.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow expects “fairness” from the team.
“We are taking all necessary measures to ensure that the plant is safe, operating safely and on a mission to fulfill all of our plans there,” he said.
Before the visit, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that Ukrainian forces had shelled the area and sent a group of up to 60 scouts to try to capture the plant on the Dnieper River. It is reported that the Ukrainian military has reached seven speedboats, but that Russian forces have “taken steps to destroy the enemy” using fighter aircraft.
Several Ukrainian projectiles landed 400 meters from the plant’s No. 1 reactor, Russian authorities said.
The Russian-installed authorities in Enerhodar reported that at least three residents were killed early Thursday as a result of shelling by Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of shelling Enerhodar and a corridor that the IAEA team was about to pass.
Neither party’s event versions can be independently verified immediately.
The fighting occurred as Ukraine was trying to start a new school year amid the war. Just over half of the country’s schools are reopening face-to-face classes despite the risks.
Separately, authorities in the Russian-backed separatist government in eastern Donetsk said 13 emergency responders were killed by Ukrainian shelling in Rubtsi, a village in neighboring Kharkiv province. Much of the fighting in recent weeks and months has focused on this area.
Gatopoulos reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.
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