In the wake of last week’s shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine, the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and now G7 foreign ministers are urging Moscow to abandon the “suicidal” gambit of using the plant as a nuclear shield, and return it to Ukrainian control.
The G7 ministers accused Moscow of endangering the entire region by occupying the plant complex and using it, unimpeded, as a military base, reports the BBC.
While Ukrainian staff continue to operate the plant, Russian forces control the six-reactor complex, the largest of its kind in Europe.
Concerns for the security of the nuclear complex, which intensified sharply when it was captured by Russia in March, have spiked again in the wake of reports that shelling last Friday damaged the plant’s external power supply system, leaving only two power lines in use.
The perpetrator of the shelling remains unconfirmed, with Russia and Ukraine each blaming the other.
Citing Ukrainian authorities, the Washington Post writes that the shelling also “caused damage to the plant’s emergency protection system and one of its three operating reactors.”
In a separate report, the Post writes that “purported strikes on Saturday near the plant’s spent-fuel storage facility prompted even more alarm.”
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told the Post these rocket attacks are “particularly dangerous” because, unlike the reactors themselves, the storage facility is not built out of reinforced concrete. “These places were not designed as fortresses against external missile or artillery strikes,” he warned. “This is the first time in the history of the nuclear age that a major nuclear power facility for a sustained period of time is in the middle of an active war zone.”
On Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the shelling as “suicidal” and demanded inspectors from the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, be allowed to enter the complex.
Guterres’ furious plea for level heads came a day after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi declared that “military action jeopardizing the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs.” He acknowledged that according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator, the shelling had not harmed the reactors themselves and there had been no release of radiation so far.
“I strongly and urgently appeal to all parties to exercise the utmost restraint in the vicinity of this important nuclear facility, with its six reactors,” Grossi added. “And I condemn any violent acts carried out at or near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant or against its staff.”
Citing unnamed analysts, the BBC says the chances Moscow will heed G7 exhortations to withdraw from Zaporizhzhia “appear extremely remote, at best.”
At latest report, Ukraine had expressed strong support for an IAEA inspection as soon as possible. “We want the watchdog to come to the power plant and check on the status to verify how the nuclear materials are being used,” Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko told the Post. “And we also want the organization to prepare a report about the violations of nuclear security that Russia is committing in Zaporizhzhia.”
While Russia has signalled its willingness to allow an IAEA inspection, the BBC says it is now accusing Ukraine of generating “artificial obstacles and difficulties” that could derail such a visit.
Genuine obstacles to such a visit do exist, however.
“In the middle of a war zone, the IAEA would need support from the UN Security Council, and they would need military protection,” Jon Wolfsthal, former senior director for arms control and non-proliferation at the U.S. National Security Council, told the BBC.
At Russia’s request, an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council will be held today to discuss the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex.