On September 6, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on the situation at the Russia-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in Ukraine, largest nuclear facility in Europe.
A 13-member IAEA expert team visited and inspected the plant in the first week of September.The IAEA reported that its inspectors found “no indication that would give rise to proliferation concern,” but were “still gravely concerned about the situation at the ZNPP – this hasn’t changed.”
The report documented the excessive damage to the plant’s buildings and noted that shelling was observed during the visit, without specifying the source as Russian or Ukrainian.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using the plant as a military base and a shield to launch strikes at Ukrainian-held territory across the Dnipro River. Russia claims Ukraine is attacking the plant.
Reacting to the IAEA report, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, said the inspectors failed to “call a spade a spade” and “directly” name the source of shelling.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin raised the issue on September 7, on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.
“Of course, the IAEA is under the pressure from the countries, in which they are active, the U.S. in particular, and the European countries. So, they cannot say outright that the fire comes from the Ukrainian territory. But it’s obvious; we are in control of this power plant, our military is there. Are we the ones who are firing at ourselves? It’s against the common sense.”
The IAEA report says:
“The team observed the presence of Russian military personnel, vehicles and equipment at various places at the ZNPP, including several military trucks on the ground floor of the Unit 1 and Unit 2 turbine halls and military vehicles stationed under the overpass connecting the reactor units…”
“The (IAEA) team closely witnessed shelling in the vicinity of the ZNPP, in particular on 3 September, when the team was instructed to evacuate to the ground level of the Administrative Building.”
A social media video from the plant showed the IAEA team and its chief, Rafael Grossi, observing a shell that hit asphalt inside the ZNPP’s boundaries.
In the video, Grossi asks the Russian representative why the projectile looked like it had been shot from Russian-occupied territory. The representative responded that the projectile made a 180-degree turn when hitting the asphalt. That prompted incredulous replies from Twitter users.
Though the IAEA report did not directly implicate Russia of shelling the plant, it cited violations of safety protocols and damage caused by the presence of Russian troops, raising danger of a nuclear incident.
It said there is “an urgent need for interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident arising from physical damage caused by military means,” and called for establishing a safe zone around the facility, which contains six nuclear reactors.
Damaged areas of the ZNPP include locations that store “fresh nuclear fuel” and “solid radioactive waste,” the report said.
Russian troops are not allowing Ukrainian operators at the ZNPP free access to the areas essential for safety, including reactor cooling, the report stated. The Ukrainian team is 40% understaffed and also carrying an extra workload to ensure physical protection at ZNPP, inspectors said.
Russia has rejected calls to demilitarize the plant, arguing that it would put the facility in even greater jeopardy.
"Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide," U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned in a visit to Ukraine in mid-August, according to the BBC.