The Daily Telegraph

Nuclear watchdog calls for security zone around plant after finding shell damage

- By Joe Barnes

SHELLING has damaged radioactiv­e waste stores at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzh­ia nuclear plant and could have caused “safety significan­t” impacts, UN inspectors have warned.

In a long-awaited report, the Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) yesterday said it was “gravely concerned” by the situation at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant following an inspection of the premises.

It called for a special security zone to be establishe­d around the facility to prevent a radioactiv­e disaster. While the UN’S nuclear watchdog did not attribute blame to Russia or Ukraine for the damage, its experts warned there was a real risk of a meltdown unless attacks near the facility were halted.

Kyiv and Moscow have both accused the other of shelling around the plant and of weaponisin­g the prospect of a Chernobyl-style disaster as blackmail.

“While the ongoing shelling has not yet triggered a nuclear emergency, it continues to represent a constant threat to nuclear safety and security with potential impact on critical safety functions that may lead to radiologic­al consequenc­es with great safety significan­ce,” the UN inspectors wrote.

“The IAEA recommends that shelling on site and in its vicinity should be stopped immediatel­y to avoid any further damages to the plant and associated facilities, for the safety of the operating staff and to maintain the physical integrity to support safe and secure operation. This requires agreement by all relevant parties to the establishm­ent of a nuclear safety and security protection zone.”

The watchdog published its findings after an unpreceden­ted inspection of the Zaporizhzh­ia plant, which was captured by Russia in the early days of the conflict, by a 14-strong team.

During the visit, its experts discovered damage to buildings housing nuclear fuel, a radioactiv­e waste store, and an alarm system building.

An image captured by inspectors showed a wide hole blasted into the roof of a building housed fresh nuclear fuel and solid radioactiv­e waste.

Experts on the mission “witnessed shelling in the vicinity of the plant... in particular on Sept 3 when the team was instructed to evacuate” to the ground floor of a building.

They also found that a radiation monitoring system had been damaged during the recent spate of shelling, leaving engineers unable to detect potential leaks from the spent fuel pools.

“The shelling could have impacted safety-related structures, systems and components, and could have caused safety significan­t impacts,” the report said. It added that off-site power supplies crucial to safety mechanisms had been cut off from the Ukrainian grid.

According to Energoatom, the Ukrainian firm that runs the facility, turbines designed to run for two hours had powered the cooling system for an entire day last week.

The reactors at the plant are designed to withstand a strike from a commercial airliner but fears are mounting over the

‘The IAEA recommends that shelling on site and in its vicinity should be stopped immediatel­y ’

safety of its cooling systems. “This situation could bring us to a nuclear catastroph­e,” Petro Kotin, the head of Energoatom, told the Financial Times.

The IAEA, during its four-hour visit to the facility, said Russian handlers restricted their access to key elements of the plant’s safety systems, as well as the control room, which had been taken over by Russian troops.

Images captured by the inspectors showed Russian military trucks parked inside the plant’s turbine halls.

Concerns were raised over the treatment and conditions of the Ukrainian workers maintainin­g the Russianhel­d plant.

“The staff were operating the facility under extremely stressful conditions while under the control of Russian armed forces,” the report said.

It added that specialist­s sent in by Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy firm, posed a risk to the normal running of the plant.

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