UN raises concerns about Zaporizhzhia plant following near-daily artillery barrage

The nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, southern Ukraine, is Europe's largest. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYIV – United Nations inspectors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine say explosions from the artillery war being waged nearby rattle the facility almost daily, raising concerns that the danger to the plant has not improved despite the UN’s pleas for Kyiv and Moscow to create a ceasefire zone around it.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, said on Thursday blasts were heard near the facility “almost daily” for weeks. In addition to explosions heard on Thursday, it said, eight “strong detonations” that rattled office windows at the plant were heard the previous morning.

“Powerful explosions have been occurring outside the facility, indicating military activities in the vicinity of the site located on the front line of the ongoing conflict,” IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi said.

Russian forces occupied the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, near the start of their full-scale invasion 11 months ago. Since then, the UN nuclear watchdog has warned of the potential for a nuclear catastrophe as the security situation deteriorated.

Blasts at the plant over the summer, for which each side blamed the other, effectively turned it into a battle zone, and all of the facility’s six reactors have been shut down as a precaution because of the security situation.

The Ukrainian authorities have for months accused Russia of using Zaporizhzhia’s large grounds, which are on the east bank of the wide Dnieper River, as a base from which to lob shells across the river at the city of Nikopol, just 16km away, and at other communities.

The IAEA stationed experts at the plant in September and also at Ukraine’s other nuclear facilities last week to monitor conditions and security and to provide technical assistance.

Mr Grossi held talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine last week to again press for a protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia facility. He has previously spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the same topic. The talks have yet to bear fruit.

Control of the plant gives Moscow significant leverage over Ukraine’s energy sector, which Russian forces also have been targeting since October with missile and drone strikes.

The IAEA’s statement gave no military details about the explosions, although it coincides with the latest in a series of frequent reports by Ukrainian officials of attacks in the Zaporizhzhia region, on the eastern bank of the river, and in Dnipropetrovsk, on the river’s western bank.

“Nikopol district had another restless night. The artillery strike alert lasted almost 12 hours,” the head of the military administration in Dnipropetrovsk, Mr Mykola Lukashuk, said on Friday, referring to a riverbank area a few kilometres away from the plant.

The community of Myrove, also on the western side of the river, was shelled about 50 times overnight, he said on the Telegram social messaging app. NYTIMES

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