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Fighting near Ukraine nuclear power plant 'must stop' -IAEA chief

Fighting near Ukraine nuclear power plant 'must stop' -IAEA chief

FRIDAY, August 12, 2022

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for military activity around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex to end as Moscow and Kyiv blamed each other for a renewed shelling and the UN Security Council met to discuss the situation.

Russia seized Europe's largest nuclear power plant in March after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24. The plant is still run by its Ukrainian technicians. Ukraine's Energoatom said the area was struck five times on Thursday, including near the site where radioactive materials are stored. 

Russia's defence ministry said in a statement that the Ukrainian shelling had partly damaged a thermal power plant and splash pools that form part of the reactors' cooling systems.

Guterres urged the withdrawal of military personnel and equipment and for no more forces or equipment to be deployed. He called for Russia and Ukraine not to target the facilities or surrounding area.

"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area," Guterres said in a statement.

The United States backed the call for a demilitarized zone around the plant, U.S. under-secretary for arms control and international security, Bonnie Jenkins, told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. She said a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "cannot wait any longer."

'NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE'

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi briefed the 15-member Security Council on Thursday at the request of Russia. Grossi said that he was ready to lead an IAEA mission to Zaporizhzhia and called on Russia and Ukraine to cooperate so the inspectors could travel as soon as possible.

"The IAEA has been ready to perform such a mission since June when we were ready to go. But unfortunately, due to political factors and other considerations, it was not possible," Grossi told the council, adding that all military action around the plant needed to stop.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the trip agreed between Russia and the IAEA in June was cancelled by U.N. security officials.

"We believe it justified for IAEA representatives to go to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as quickly as possible and possibly even before the end of August," Nebenzia told the Security Council.

He said the world was being pushed "to the brink of nuclear catastrophe, comparable in scale with Chernobyl."

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric has said the United Nations was committed to doing everything possible to get the IAEA technicians to Zaporizhzhia.

"There's a war going on, and we're talking about a nuclear power plant in the middle of a battlefield," Dujarric told reporters on Thursday. "I think we can think of at least two or three pages' worth of hurdles."

Russia’s Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, on Tuesday said that the IAEA was ready to visit Zaporizhzhia in June with Russia’s support.

“Unfortunately, at the very last moment the Department of Security of the UN Secretariat blocked the mission. We hope that the UN Secretary General will not allow this to happen again,” Ulyanov posted on Twitter.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke on the situation around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, in an evening address on Thursday, saying there had been 'new strikes' in the area and, referring to Russia, called it 'one of the greatest crimes of the terrorist state.'

The plant was captured by Russian forces in the opening stages of the war following Russia's Feb. 24 invasion, and new strikes in close proximity of the plant were recorded today.

In the address, Zelenskiy also told government officials to stop talking to reporters about Kyiv's military tactics against Russia, saying such remarks were "frankly irresponsible."

In the wake of major blasts that wrecked a Russian air base in Crimea on Tuesday, the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers cited unidentified officials as saying Ukrainian forces were responsible. The government in Kyiv, on the other hand, declined to say whether it had been behind the explosions.

"War is definitely not the time for vanity and loud statements. The fewer details you divulge about our defence plans, the better it will be for the implementation of those defence plans," Zelenskiy said in the evening address.

On Thursday defence ministers of Ukraine, UK and Denmark host ministers from allied countries in Copenhagen to discuss long-term support for Ukraine, including military training, mine clearance and weapon supplies.

Zelenskiy spoke on the 'long-term support' of the 26 partner states of Ukraine, which includes European countries, the United States, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Ukraine's interior minister said on Thursday that Ukraine had to be ready for any scenario at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that has been hit by shelling, including evacuating people from the area.

"The plant is as of today not only in the hands of the enemy, but in the hands of uneducated specialists who could potentially allow for a tragedy to happen," Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky told Reuters in an interview.

"Of course, it's difficult to even imagine the scale of the tragedy which could come into effect if Russians continue their actions there," he said.

Ukraine has in recent days warned of the risk of a Chornobyl-style nuclear disaster.

"This means for us that ... we have to prepare for any scenario. The state emergency services together with the Interior ministry and the Regions Ministry is discussing different scenarios that are needed, including the question of evacuations," said Monastyrsky.