The UN nuclear agency calls for a security zone at the Zaporizhia plant because the situation is “unsustainable” | International
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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) considers that the situation in Ukraine is “unsustainable” and has called this Tuesday for the “urgent” establishment of a security zone around the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, in the southeast of the country, as well as the cessation of attacks. This plant is the largest in Europe and has been occupied for six months by Russian troops, who invaded Ukraine on February 24. The facilities, where local employees continue to work under the orders of the invading military, are the constant scene of armed clashes in which both armies are submerged. Meanwhile, kyiv and Moscow accuse each other of endangering millions of people in the face of a possible catastrophe.
“Pending the end of the conflict and the reestablishment of stable conditions, it is urgent to adopt provisional measures to prevent a nuclear accident,” says the IAEA in a report that it made public on Tuesday afternoon and that the Council must now discuss. UN Security. To do this, this body, under the umbrella of the United Nations, calls for “the immediate establishment of a protection zone” and is “willing to immediately initiate consultations that lead to the urgent establishment of that nuclear safety protection zone” , adds in the conclusions of the text, of 52 pages. It also warns that “the current situation is unsustainable and the best action to guarantee the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and its people would be for this armed conflict to end now.”
The IAEA reviews the events that have occurred in Ukraine since Russia invaded this former Soviet republic, but the report avoids accusations or criticism of Russia or Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the one who ordered the entry of troops into the neighboring country at the end of February, is not even cited. With the invasion of Ukraine, an “unprecedented” war was opened because it is the first time that an armed conflict has a nuclear plant as its setting and its consequences, in the event of an accident, would reach beyond the Ukrainian borders, according to the IAEA.
Since last week, this body has had a presence inside the facilities after the establishment of a permanent mission of two observers. That has not prevented the agency from expressing “deep concern” at the seriousness of the scenario. The inspectors appeal, in any case, to an agreement between the parties of “extreme importance” to achieve stabilization and, they hope, will serve to “closely monitor the situation on the ground and receive direct, fast and reliable information.”
The document, referring to Ukraine, but whose main focus is the Zaporizhia plant, shows photographs of the damage suffered by the facilities during the war, as well as the presence inside of vehicles and military material of the Russian troops that occupy. Radiation levels remain, despite everything, within normal limits, according to the IAEA. The Russian military imposes certain “restrictions” on Ukrainian employees in their work that can make it difficult to respond adequately in the event of an accident, the report highlights. Staff from the Russian atomic agency, Rosenergoatom, is also deployed at the plant, as the agency’s mission was able to verify during its visit on September 1.
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The IAEA team displaced to Zaporizhia and headed by the director of this organization based in Vienna, the Argentine Rafael Grossi, affirms that he has witnessed the bombings that are taking place in the area. He has also listed the damage that the plant’s facilities, located on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, have suffered so far. Among them, he cites an oil tank to lubricate a turbine; the roofs of various buildings; the special building that houses, among other elements, the fresh nuclear fuel and the solid radioactive waste storage facility; the new training building; the building where the physical protection system alarm center is located or the container where the system for monitoring radiation is located.
“We are playing with fire”
After publishing the details of the report, Grossi presented his conclusions before the UN Security Council, made up of 15 member countries —including Russia— and charged with discussing peace and security issues. “The integrity of the plant has been violated, has happened and continues to happen, voluntarily or involuntarily and that I have been able to see personally, is simply unacceptable. We are playing with fire and something tremendously catastrophic can happen”, Grossi said by videoconference. The expert has also demanded the removal of the military equipment that is in the plant so as not to interfere with the work of the operators. At that meeting, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, asked for a double commitment: “On the part of Russia to withdraw its forces from the plant; by Ukraine not to take it”. The Russian ambassador to the international body, Vassily Nebenzia, has described the demilitarization proposal as “not very serious.” In addition, he regretted that the UN has not blamed Ukraine for the deterioration of the situation at the plant. In recent days, Moscow had shown keen interest in the UN agency’s assessment of whether or not it blamed kyiv for the nuclear risks at the plant.
Russian troops have already occupied the Chernobyl nuclear power plant for a month, the scene of a very serious accident in 1986, whose facilities the IAEA has been able to visit twice. Despite everything, the other three nuclear power plants in the country (Khmelnytskyy, Rivne and South Ukraine) “operate safely since the beginning of the conflict,” says the document.
Facilities with greater potential than Chernobyl
The Zaporizhia plant concentrates six of the 15 nuclear reactors that Ukraine has. Its installed power is six gigawatts —the installed nuclear power in all of Spain is seven gigawatts—. It is considered that an accident at these facilities could far exceed the Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) disasters. On August 25, one of the two remaining reactors at the Zaporizhia plant had to be shut down due to a Russian bombardment, according to Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear agency. At the same time, Moscow accused kyiv of having sent “a sabotage group” earlier that day to try to regain control of the plant. Last Sunday, September 4, the facilities again lost their electrical connection to the country’s main network due to a new bombardment, although it remained connected to the outside through an auxiliary reserve line, according to the IAEA.
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