The head of the UN’s nuclear regulatory watchdog is warning the world that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant “is completely out of control.” Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the Associated Press about the risk in an interview.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is in Southeast Ukraine along the Dnipro river. The plant has been a central part of the war since Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February. Russian troops besieged it in early March, firing artillery shells at it before taking it over. The firefight between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers was watched by 95,000 people online through the plant’s live streamed CCTV cameras. An administrative building caught fire during the fight but the plant didn’t melt down. Since then, Russia has maintained control of the plant.
Since then, Grossi and others have been lobbying Russia to allow the IAEA inside to inspect the plant. “Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated,” Grossi said. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”
Grossi told the AP that it has a few contacts with the Ukrainian workers inside the plant, but believes supplies are limited and that it’s unclear if the plant is being well maintained. “When you put this together, you have a catalog of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility,” he said. “And this is why I have been insisting from day one that we have to be able to go there to perform this safety and security evaluation, to do the repairs and to assist as we already did in Chernobyl.”
Russia has kept the power plant up and running, but it’s also turned it into a fortress. Ukraine holds the territory across the river and Russia has been shooting rockets over the river from the cover of Zaporizhzhia since July. Ukrainian civilians across the river are losing their homes and loved ones in the attacks and Kyiv’s military can’t fire back.
Grossi told the AP that Zaporizhzhia’s frontline position had made it especially vulnerable. He wants IAEA inspectors on site both to make sure the plant is running without problems and to tamp down the fighting. “The IAEA, by its presence, will be a deterrent to any act of violence against this nuclear power plant,” he said. “So I’m pleading as an international civil servant, as the head of an international organization, I’m pleading to both sides to let this mission proceed.”