Russia has said it cannot allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to access all objects of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant after it was shelled on Saturday evening. Commenting to the Russian state-held channel TASS, adviser to Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom Renat Karchaa said that IAEA inspectors would be allowed access only “strictly within the limits of their mandate,” and that “if they want to inspect a facility that has nothing to do with nuclear safety, they will be refused.”
“Not because we’re hiding anything, but because we have to work within the mandate,” he said.
IAEA director Rafael Grossi proposed to send a mission to inspect the Zaporizhzhia NPP, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant at the front line of the war in southeastern Ukraine and controlled by Russian troops, after on 19 November, at least twelve explosions were recorded close to it, according to the (IAEA).
Then, IAEA inspectors witnessed several explosions caused by the shelling in the vicinities of the Zaporizhzhia plant, which houses six nuclear reactors. The shells landed near the facility that stores dry nuclear waste and fresh spent nuclear fuel, but no radioactive emissions were recorded, according to the IAEA inspectors.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been occupied by Russian forces since March 2022. During the assault and capture of the plant Russian tanks fired at it several times. Over the past eight months, the plant has been repeatedly shelled. While Russia accuses Ukraine of shelling it, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has claimed several times that the Russian forces organize false-flag attacks on the plant.
“Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately. You’re playing with fire!” the IAEA head Rafael Grossi said on Sunday following the reports of the explosions at the site of the nuclear plant.
Despite the denials of Russia’s officials that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is being used by the Russian forces as a military base, the video showing Russian military trucks inside the nuclear power plant close to reactors was leaked in August 2022.
The IAEA, together with Ukraine, urges Russia to implement a security zone around the plant and withdraw all troops and weaponry from its facilities. However, Russia refuses to demilitarize the area arguing that would make the nuclear power plant vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks.
Currently, there is no damage of any nuclear facilities at the Zaporizhzhia plant that may be critical for a nuclear safety. The Ukrainian staff that continues working at the Russian-occupied plant has reduced the number of nuclear reactors in operation. At this point, only two out of six reactors keep working, others are currently in a state of cold shutdown.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was temporarily cut off from Ukraine’s energy system for the first time in its history on August 25 following the shelling that damaged a power grid. Diesel generators were used that day to keep the plant in operation. With no electricity that powers the cooling pumps around the nuclear reactors, the fuel would begin to melt. Such a meltdown may trigger a nuclear disaster that would be more devastating than that of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant back in 1986.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was built in 1984-1995. Before Russia overrun the plant, it generated 20% of Ukraine’s electricity.