- IAEA team leaves Kyiv for nuclear power plant
- The mission is expected to start the inspection on Thursday
- It is unclear how long the inspection may last
- Also not clear if the mission can establish a permanent presence
KYIV, Aug 31 (Reuters) – UN nuclear inspectors visited Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Wednesday after weeks of nearby shelling raised fears of a Fukushima-style radioactive disaster, with tensions rising between Kyiv and Moscow during the visit.
A Reuters reporter traveling in a convoy with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, said it was likely inspectors would spend the night in the nearby town of Zaporizhzhia before visiting the factory, which is in Russian-controlled territory, on Thursday.
Russian officials based in the region suggested the visit could last just one day, while officials from the IAEA and Ukraine suggested it would last longer.
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“We are finally moving forward after six months of hard work,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told reporters before the convoy set off, adding that the mission planned to spend “a few days” at the site.
“We have a very important task to do there – to assess the real situation there, to help stabilize the situation as much as possible. We are going to a war zone, we are going to occupied territory and that requires explicit guarantees , not only from the Russian Federation, but also from Ukraine. We were able to get it,” Grossi said.
Russia captured the factory, Europe’s largest, in early March in what Moscow calls its “special military operation“, which Kyiv and the West have described as an unprovoked invasion designed to seize land and erase Ukrainian identity.
Since then, a Russian military force has been present at the plant, as have most of the plant’s Ukrainian workforce who worked hard to operate the facility, which traditionally supplied Ukraine with 20% of its electricity needs.
For weeks, Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of endangering the safety of the plant with artillery or drone strikes.
Kyiv says Russia is using the plant as a shield to strike towns and villages, knowing it will be difficult for Ukraine to retaliate. He also accused Russian forces of bombing the factory.
“The situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and in Enerhodar and the surrounding area remains extremely dangerous,” Ukrainian President Zelenskiy said on Tuesday. “The risk of a radioactive catastrophe due to Russian actions does not diminish for an hour.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said radiation levels at the plant were normal.
Moscow has denied Ukrainian claims of reckless behavior, questioning why it would bomb a facility where its own troops are garrisoned as what it describes as a security detail.
Moscow has in turn accused the Ukrainians of bombing the plant in an attempt to spark international outrage which Kyiv hopes will result in a demilitarized zone. Russia has said it has no plans to withdraw its forces for now.
QUESTIONS AND DOUBTS
Grossi said the IAEA hoped to set up a permanent mission at the plant and that one of its priorities was to speak to the Ukrainian technicians who run it.
“It’s one of the most important things I want to do and I will do it,” he said.
It was unclear whether Grossi’s desire to spend “a few days” at the factory would be possible, however, after Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian administration based in the region, told the Interfax news agency. that IAEA inspectors “must see the work of the station in one day”.
It was also unclear whether Russia would allow the IAEA to establish a permanent presence at the plant, although Moscow said it was aware that is what Grossi wants to do.
The United States called for the plant to be completely closed and called for a demilitarized zone around it.
The Interfax news agency quoted a Russian-appointed local official as saying on Wednesday that two of the plant’s six reactors were working.
The plant is close to the front lines and Ukraine’s armed forces on Wednesday accused Russia of bombing a line of contact in the region and preparing to resume an offensive there.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow.
Zelenskiy, in a late-night address on Tuesday, said Ukrainian forces were attacking Russian positions in Ukraine across the entire frontline after Kyiv announced on Monday it had launched an offensive to try to retake the south.
Zelenskiy said his forces were also on the offensive in the east.
“Active military engagement is now happening across the entire front line: in the south, in the Kharkiv region, in the Donbass,” Zelenskiy said.
Russia captured large swaths of southern Ukraine near the Black Sea coast in the first weeks of the six-month war, including the Kherson region north of the annexed Crimean peninsula by Russia.
Ukraine sees recapturing the region as crucial to preventing Russian attempts to seize more territory further west, which could eventually cut off its access to the Black Sea.
Britain, an ally of Ukraine, said Ukrainian formations in the south had pushed Russian frontline forces some distance in places, exploiting relatively thin Russian defences. Read more
The Russian Defense Ministry denied reports of Ukrainian progress and said its troops had routed Ukrainian forces.
Reuters could not verify reports from the battlefield.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Philippa Fletcher
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