Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant faces ‘grave hour’, says UN watchdog

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has warned that parts of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant have been destroyed due to recent attacks, risking “unacceptable” potential radiation leakage. “.

“IAEA experts believe there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety,” but “that could change at any time,” Grossi said.

“Any military action that jeopardizes nuclear safety, nuclear security, must cease immediately,” he added. “These military actions in the vicinity of such an important nuclear facility could have very serious consequences.”

The Zaporizhzhia facility – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – occupies a large site on the Dnipro River near the Russian-occupied town of Enerhodar. It has continued to operate at reduced capacity since Russian forces captured it in early March, with Ukrainian technicians remaining at work.

So far, Russia and Ukraine have been unwilling to agree to an IAEA inspection of the plant and have accused each other of bombing the facility – an action which the IAEA says violates “the indispensable pillars of nuclear safety and security”.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Thursday blamed Ukraine for the bombings and urged supporters in Kyiv to stop the attacks and prevent a disastrous radioactive leak.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pointed the finger at Moscow, which he said was putting all of Europe at risk.

“Only the complete withdrawal of the Russians from the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the restoration of Ukraine’s full control over the situation around the plant will guarantee the restoration of nuclear security for all of Europe,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine’s Energoatom nuclear agency said 10 shells landed near the complex on Thursday, preventing a shift handover.

“For the safety of nuclear workers, the buses with the personnel of the following team were sent back to Enerhodar,” the agency said. “Until the situation finally normalizes, workers from the previous team will continue to work.”

Energoatom said radiation levels at the site remained normal, despite further attacks.

Several Western and Ukrainian officials believe Russia is using the giant nuclear facility as a stronghold to protect its troops and launch attacks, as they assume Kyiv will not retaliate and risk a crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Moscow of using the plant to protect its forces, while the UK Ministry of Defense said in a recent security assessment that Russia’s actions at the complex were sabotaging the security of its operations.

The Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said in late July that Russian forces had been observed using heavy weapons near the plant because “they know very well that the Ukrainian armed forces will not respond to these attacks, because they can damage the nuclear power plant”. plant.”

The United States on Thursday backed Ukraine’s calls for a demilitarized zone around the facility, while at the UN, Bonnie Jenkins, US undersecretary for arms control and international affairs, said that Russia was responsible for the “nuclear risks” at the plant.

She warned the UN Security Council that “the many consequences of this conflict, including the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, will only end when Russia ends its war”.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who previously called for the bombing of the factory “suicidal” – said in a statement on Thursday that he was “seriously concerned”.

“We must be clear that any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia or any other nuclear facility in Ukraine, or elsewhere, could have catastrophic consequences not just for the immediate neighborhood but for the region and beyond,” he said. he declared.

CNN’s Sugham Pokharel, Jennifer Hansler, Tim Lister, Yulia Kesaieva and Tara John contributed to this report.