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Strikes at Ukrainian nuclear plant ‘alarming’, says UN watchdog chief

Head of International Atomic Energy Agency says shelling at Zaporizhzhia plant underlines ‘very real risk of a nuclear disaster’

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Ukraine. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Ukraine. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The UN nuclear watchdog has called for an immediate end to all military action near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after it was hit by shelling, causing one of the reactors to shut down and creating a “very real risk of a nuclear disaster”.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he was “extremely concerned” by reports of damage at the plant and called for IAEA experts to be allowed to inspect the damage.

“I’m extremely concerned by the shelling yesterday at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” he said.

The Ukrainian nuclear power company Energoatom said the attack had damaged a power cable and forced one of the reactors to stop working, and that “there are still risks of leaking hydrogen and radioactive substances, and the risk of fire is also high”. The shelling “has caused a serious risk for the safe operation of the plant”, Grossi said.

“Military action jeopardising the safety and security of the nuclear power plant is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs. Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would amount to playing with fire, with potentially catas­trophic consequences.”

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Kyiv accuses Russian troops of storing heavy weapons at the plant, which they seized in March and continue to occupy. Moscow, in turn, has accused Ukrainian forces of targeting it.

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his nightly address on Saturday, once again accused Moscow of terrorism, saying, “Russian terrorists became the first in the world to use the power plant... for terror”.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, condemned the attack “as a serious and irresponsible breach of nuclear safety rules and another example of Russia’s disregard for international norms”.

Grossi called for an IAEA team of safety, security and safeguards experts, led by himself, to be allowed to visit the plant.

The EU criticised Russia over “military activities” around the plant. “The EU condemns Russia’s military activities around Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Borrell, the EU foreign affairs chief, said. “This is a serious and irresponsible breach of nuclear safety rules and another example of Russia’s disregard for international norms.”