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UN inspectors find ‘impacts’ at ‘violated’ Ukrainian nuclear plant

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Europe’s largest nuclear plant suffered damage in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and inspectors will remain on site to monitor the situation, the head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog said late Friday.

“We are establishing a permanent presence on site, this time with two of our experts who will be continuing the work,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters after returning to Vienna from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

He added that both Ukraine and Russia agreed to have two IAEA inspectors stay at the plant permanently. “This has tremendous value, it makes a huge difference.”

Their continued presence will allow the U.N. agency to provide independent information to the international community about the situation at the plant.

“If something happens or if any limitation comes, they are going to be reporting it to us. It’s no longer a matter of A said this and B said the contrary,” Grossi said. “For those who may have intentions on the plant, knowing that international inspectors are there, witnessing and informing immediately what is happening, has, I think, an inherent very important stabilizing effect.”

Currently, six experts are still at the plant, with four returning after the weekend.

Safety concerns

Grossi painted a worrying picture of the safety and security of the plant, occupied by Russian troops since March but still operated by Ukrainian staff.

“The military activity and operations are increasing in that part of the country and this worries me a lot … It is obvious that the statistical possibility of more physical damage is present,” he said, adding that he saw “impacts, holes, markings on buildings of shelling” meaning “the physical integrity of the facility’s been violated, not once but several times.”

Grossi added that logistic supply chains have been interrupted but that “the impression [the Ukrainian staff] gave us is that there is no major problem there” and that radiation monitoring systems “have had some interruptions but some systems have been working well.”

The conditions for the Ukrainian staff, who have to work with Russia’s Rosatom workers on site, remain a primary concern, Grossi said, explaining that “there is a latent tension there because of the obvious reasons of the war.”

“There is a professional relationship between these experts … but they are human beings and they have signs of a war that is affecting them and their families,” Grossi said, adding that having IAEA experts on site has “very big added value” because they can interact and support the Ukrainian staff operating the plant.

The IAEA chief also said that there was no interference by Russian soldiers during Thursday’s visit, and that he actually didn’t speak with them because “they were not available.”

“We’ve seen … everything we’ve requested to see,” he said.

Grossi said he will debrief the mission to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday as well as report back to the IAEA board of governors.

No political puppet

Grossi also addressed criticisms from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who on Thursday complained that the IAEA head had not demanded the demilitarization of the power plant and its surrounding area. “This was the key — the key! — security point of our agreements,” Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian leader also said people had been forced by the Russians to lie to IAEA inspectors and that the U.N. agency had not ensured reporters could accompany them to the site.

But Grossi said: “When people tend to like what we say, they’re going to praise us, when they don’t like it, they will say that these are the puppets of whomever or that we are being manipulated. We are never manipulated.”

He added that it is “very legitimate” for members of the IAEA — Ukraine is one — “to expect that the agency or myself will say exactly what they would like the [director general] to say” but said he’d prefer to remain “prudent.”

“There are enough political players in this game … The nuclear watchdog has to remain what it is a nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation watchdog and it has to do its job to have its credibility.”

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