The UN nuclear watchdog has called for the creation of a safe zone around the Zaporizhzhia plant on the front line of Russia’s war in Ukraine, in a long-awaited report that details the significant damage caused there.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which sent a team of inspectors to Zaporizhzhia last week, said it was “seriously concerned” about the “unprecedented” situation at the plant, which is controlled by Russian forces but operated by Ukrainian technicians, and called for interim measures. to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.
The report came as Russian state media confirmed that the Russian colonel who served as the military commander of the occupied Ukrainian city of Berdyansk was killed by a car bomb, in the largest assassination to date. of a civil servant working for the occupying forces.
Ukrainian staff operated under constant stress and pressure, especially with the limited staff available, according to the report. “This is not sustainable and could lead to increased human error with implications for nuclear safety,” he added.
Russian troops took control of the site in early March and there have been repeated attacks in the surrounding area, raising fears of a nuclear disaster. Moscow and Kyiv denied responsibility, and the report did not assign responsibility for the damage discovered by its inspectors.
The UN agency sent a team of 14 people to the site last week, including its director general, Rafael Grossi, to assess the situation at the factory. At least two members of the team must remain there at all times to ensure the security of the installation.
“There is an urgent need to take interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident resulting from physical damage caused by military means,” the IAEA said. “This can be achieved by the immediate establishment of a nuclear security protection and safety zone.
“The IAEA recommends that shelling on and near the site be stopped immediately to prevent further damage to the plant and associated facilities.”
Inspectors said they found Russian troops and equipment at the plant, including military vehicles parked in the turbine halls.
The IAEA said that during its inspection, its team “witnessed close shelling in the vicinity of the plant, particularly on September 3 when the team was ordered to evacuate to the ground floor of the administrative building”.
On the same day, the plant was disconnected from its last remaining main power line to the grid and relied on a reserve line.
“Although the ongoing bombings have not yet triggered a nuclear emergency, they continue to pose an ongoing threat to nuclear safety and security with potential impact on critical safety functions that may result in radiological consequences of a great importance to safety,” the inspectors wrote.
Areas damaged by the shelling included a turbine lube oil tank and the roofs of various buildings, including one housing a spent fuel transport vehicle.
Grossi is expected to brief the UN Security Council in New York on his findings later on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, a Russian colonel who was military commander of the occupied Ukrainian city of Berdyansk was killed in a car bomb attack, Russian state media confirmed.
The car bomb is said to have exploded near the municipal administration, which is used as a Russian headquarters. Photographs showed that the car used by the Russian military officer, who was identified as Colonel Artyom Bardin, was badly damaged in the attack, which took place around noon.
Russian officials have alleged that Ukraine was behind the attack. If true, it would be the largest assassination to date of an official working for Russia’s occupation government in Ukraine.
At least two Ukrainians collaborating with the Russian government were killed in suspected partisan attacks in August. In one case, the deputy head of the Russian-installed military administration was shot dead in his home in the town of Nova Kakhovka. At the end of August, a Ukrainian politician from the party of Volodymyr Zelenskiy who had left to work with the Russians was killed in the Kherson region.
Earlier, explosions sounded and power was cut in Enerhodar, the town surrounding the plant, according to Dmytro Orlov, the Ukrainian mayor who operates from outside Russian-held territory. Moscow repeated its longstanding accusations that Ukrainian forces were shelling the plant.
Kyiv claims that it was Russia that staged such incidents, to undermine international support for Ukraine and as a possible pretext to cut the plant off the Ukrainian power grid and steal its output. Russia has so far rejected international calls to withdraw its forces from the site and demilitarize the area.
On Tuesday, in the eastern battlefield, three civilians were killed in Russian rocket fire in the Kharkiv region, a senior official said.
Over the past week, the fighting has focused on the south, where Ukraine has launched a long-awaited counterattack to retake territory seized at the start of the war.
Ukrainian officials uploaded an image of three soldiers raising the Ukrainian flag on a rooftop in Vysokopyllya, north of Kherson. If confirmed, it could mark perhaps the most strategic breakthrough on the battlefield in the counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, Russia continued to bomb Ukrainian towns elsewhere. According to Mayor Ihor Terekhov, rescuers found the body of a woman under the rubble of a building in Kharkiv after the night bombardment of Ukraine’s second largest city. The governor said two other people were also killed in the province.
Reuters contributed to this report
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