‘Reckless’ Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant attacks risk ‘widespread radiological contamination’

Russia risk 'radioactivity release' at Zaporizhzhia says expert

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Meanwhile the International Atomic Energy Agency has warned the situation at the facility, located in the south of the country, had deteriorated to the point where it was now “very alarming”. Ukraine and Russia yesterday accused each other of risking catastrophe by shelling what is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces in a region expected to become one of the next big front lines of the war.

Western countries have urged Moscow to withdraw its troops from the plant, but there has been no sign so far of Russia agreeing to do that.

The plant was captured by Russian forces in early March but continues to be run by Ukrainian technicians, believed to be under armed guard by Russian soldiers.

Dr Nickolas Roth, senior director on the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Nuclear Materials Security Program team, warned about potential dangers in an article shortly after the Russian invasion and told Express.co.uk his position had not changed.

He said: “I certainly remain concerned about the risk of a meltdown at a reactor or a fire within a tightly packed spent fuel pool at Zaporizhzhia resulting in widespread radiological contamination.

“The recent news about fighting around Zaporizhzhia is particularly alarming.

“Prior to that, there was already a safety and security crisis at the facility.”

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Dr Roth added: “Nuclear power plants were not intended for war zones and nuclear operators cannot safely run a plant at gunpoint.

“The UN Secretary General and US calls for ending military activities at and around Zaporizhzhia are important steps toward reducing risk.

“Nuclear power plants should not be military targets.

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“There should be an immediate halt to hostilities at Zaporizhzhia so that international experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency can identify and begin addressing nuclear safety and security risks at the site.

“As for what’s happening, reports have said there have been attacks on the site in recent days resulting in damage.

“Any attack on a nuclear power plant, let alone the largest in Europe, is an incredibly reckless and dangerous act.”

Speaking via video link to the UN Security Council yesterday, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said: “Based on the most recent information provided by Ukraine, IAEA experts have preliminarily assessed that there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of the shelling or other recent military actions. However, this could change at any moment.

“I ask that both sides of this armed conflict cooperate with the IAEA and allow for a mission to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.”

The IAEA has received contradictory information from Ukraine and Russia about the status of the facility, meaning experts needed to inspect the power station for themselves, Dr Roth said.

He explained: “It is those facts, gathered during a site visit, that are needed for the IAEA to be able to develop and provide an independent risk assessment of the nuclear safety and security risks.

Proposing a mission which he himself would lead, Mr Grossi said: “Not only would a mission to Zaporizhzhia be beneficial to the independent work of the IAEA, but I believe it would also be beneficial to the operators and regulators of the nuclear plant.”

Speaking on Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on both Russia and Ukraine to halt all fighting near the plant after fresh shelling that day.

Construction on Zaporizhzhia began in 1980 and its sixth reactor was connected to the grid in 1995.

As of July 22, just two of its reactors were operating, according to the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

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