UN nuclear agency pushes for access to Zaporizhzhia plant roof after reports of Russian explosives

AP , Friday 7 Jul 2023

The head of the UN nuclear agency said Friday he was pushing for access to the roof of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, following reports from Ukrainian officials that the Russians had planted explosives there.

Rafael Mariano Grossi
Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at a hotel in Tokyo, Japan, Friday, July 7, 2023. AP

The plant was seized by Russia, in March 2022, in the first weeks of the war in Ukraine, raising fears of a nuclear accident. The Russians have only granted limited access to officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, citing the security situation.

Wrapping up a four-day visit to Japan, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said his agency was making progress on access to Zaporizhzhia, but there had been “some limitations.”

“It's like a conversation and I'm pushing to get as much access as possible," Grossi said, in an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo, adding that there was “marginal improvement."

“I’m optimistic that we are going to be able to go up and see,” Grossi said, referring to the rooftops.

The U.N. atomic watchdog has repeatedly cautioned over the possibility of a radiation catastrophe like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, after a reactor exploded in 1986.

Citing the latest intelligence reports, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alleged Tuesday night that Russian troops had placed “objects resembling explosives” on top of several power units to “simulate” an attack as part of a false flag operation.

The “foreign objects” were placed on the roof of the plant’s third and fourth power units, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a statement.

Grossi said IAEA had made simulations to model the possible environmental impact in case of an explosion or bombing of the plant, although he declined to give details.

The IAEA has officials stationed at the Russian-held plant, which is still run by its Ukrainian staff.

Grossi told the AP that the IAEA had gained access to additional parts of the site recently, including the cooling pond and fuel storage areas.

The Ukrainians had said the areas were mined by the Russians, but the IAEA was able to "confirm that they were not, which is important.”

On Wednesday, Grossi said the most recent IAEA inspection of the Zaporizhzhia plant found no mining activities. He was speaking after a visit to the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where equipment has been installed for the planned release of treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

Grossi was to leave Tokyo later Friday to head to South Korea, where he will provide an explanation of the safety of the Fukushima water release plan. In its final assessment report, the IAEA endorsed the plan, saying any environmental and health impact would be neglble.

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