The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on Wednesday said it was headed for Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) with “explicit guarantees” for the safety of its team.
Europe’s largest nuclear power plant has been repeatedly threatened with a barrage of shelling that officials warn could result in a massive nuclear disaster if the plant is damaged.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said before departing south from Kyiv that his team had finally been granted access to the plant after “six months of strenuous efforts.”
“We have a very, very important task there to perform, to assess the real situation there, to help stabilize the situation as much as we can,” he told reporters. “I am really very conscious of the of the relevance of this moment, but we are ready. The IAEA is ready.”
The director general’s trip comes just one week after the ZNPP saw the most serious damage inflicted to it yet when power lines were downed by shelling, disconnecting two of the plant’s reactors from the power grid and triggering its emergency protection systems.
Both Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the shelling incident.
Moscow, which has occupied the plant since March 3, has claimed that Ukrainian forces have fired upon the plant in an attempt to hit its troops there.
While Kyiv has placed the blame squarely on Russia, pointing to its repeated warnings of a nuclear disaster that could outstrip that of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe if the plant is attacked.
Grossi would not say for how long his team plans to stay or what they will be doing to better secure the plant, but the director general said this is the first time the IAEA will cross into an active war zone.
“These operations are very complex,” he told reporters. “We are going to a war zone. And this requires the explicit guarantees from not only from the Russian Federation, also from the Republic of Ukraine, and we have been able to secure that.”
The IAEA hopes to establish a permanent mission at the ZNPP, which has continued to be operated by Ukrainian technicians since its occupation earlier this year.
Grossi leads a team of 13 men and one woman to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.