Nuclear watchdog’s fears grow over Ukraine power station safety

May 07, 2023 09:22 AM AEST | By PAMEDIA
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The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has expressed growing concern about the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, after the governor of the Russia-occupied area ordered the evacuation of a town where most of the plant’s staff live amid ongoing attacks in the area.

The plant is near the front lines of fighting, and Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday that a 72-year-old woman was killed and three other people injured when Russian forces fired more than 30 shells at Nikopol, a Ukrainian-held town close to the plant.

“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi said in a warning on Saturday, before the latest report of attacks.

“I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant.”

Mr Grossi’s comments were prompted by an announcement on Friday by Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed governor of the partially-occupied Zaporizhzhia province, that he had ordered the evacuation of civilians from 18 settlements in the area, including Enerhodar, which is located next to the power plant, which is Europe’s largest.

The settlements affected are 30-40 miles (50-70km) from the front line of fighting between Ukraine and Russia, and Mr Balitsky said Ukraine has intensified attacks on the area in the past several days.

The region is also widely seen as a likely focus for Ukraine’s anticipated spring counter-offensive.

The Ukrainian General Staff said on Sunday that the evacuation of Enerhodar has already begun.

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International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said he is ‘extremely concerned’ about the security risks to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)

According to an update posted on Facebook, the General Staff said the first residents being moved are those who took Russian citizenship following the capture of the town by Moscow early in the war.

They are being taken to the Russia-occupied Azov Sea coast, about 120 miles (200km) to the south-east.

Mr Grossi said operating staff at the nuclear power plant, whose six reactors are currently all in shutdown mode, had not been evacuated as of Saturday but that most live in Enerhodar and the situation has contributed to “increasingly tense, stressful and challenging conditions for personnel and their families”.

He added that IAEA experts at the nuclear site “are continuing to hear shelling on a regular basis”.

“We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequence for the population and the environment,” Mr Grossi said.

“This major nuclear facility must be protected. I will continue to press for a commitment by all sides to achieve this vital objective.”

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A destroyed building used as shelter by Russian troops at a farm in Ivanivka in the Kherson region of Ukraine (Bernat Armangue/AP)

Elsewhere, Russian shelling on Saturday and overnight killed six civilians and injured four others in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, according to a Telegram update published by the local administration on Sunday.

Five civilians were injured in the eastern Donetsk region, the epicentre of the fighting in recent months, local governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces overnight attacked the largest port in the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula with drones, a Kremlin-installed local official said on Telegram early on Sunday.

According to the post by Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor of Sevastopol, 10 Ukrainian drones targeted the city, three of which were shot down by air defence systems. Mr Razvozhayev said there had been no damage.


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