The U.N. nuclear watchdog announced Monday that its mission of top experts is “now on its way” to the facility, injecting a glimmer of hope into the standoff over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at the center of the fighting in Ukraine even as fresh shelling in the region heightened fears of a catastrophe.
Even though both Ukraine and Russia welcomed the expedition, each side kept blaming the other for inflaming tensions by firing the area around the facility. Independent verification of either side’s assertions is impossible.
The largest nuclear power station in Europe, Zaporizhzhia, has been captured by Russian troops and managed by Ukrainian employees since the beginning of the six-month conflict. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi has been requesting access to the facility for months.
His remarks came as Ukraine accused Russia of carrying out further missile and artillery attacks on the facility or areas nearby, raising concerns that the war would result in a significant radioactive release. Six reactors are located at the complex, which was previously briefly rendered inoperable by the bombardment last week.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) “Support and Assistance Mission… is currently on its way,” Grossi tweeted, adding that “the day has arrived.” It is supposed to arrive later this week. Beyond publishing a photo of himself with 13 other specialists, Grossi didn’t offer a more detailed timetable or other information.
While Moscow accuses Kiev of indiscriminately shooting on the facility, Ukraine claims that Russia is virtually keeping the plant prisoner, stockpiling weapons inside and conducting assaults from nearby.
One person was confirmed dead and five people injured in Nikopol, the city across the Dnieper River from the nuclear power plant, according to a report from Ukraine on Monday. The Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, which is just a few kilometers from the facility, Dmytro Orlov, attributed at least 10 locals’ injuries on Russian bombardment.
Orlov said on Telegram that “apparently (the Russians) have practiced their scenario before the arrival of the IAEA delegation.”
The mission, according to a tweet from the U.N. agency, will among other things “check functioning of safety & security systems” and review employee conditions.
Without exaggeration, this mission will be the toughest in IAEA history, according to Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine.
“We anticipate a clear disclosure of the facts, of violations of all nuclear and nuclear safety regulations, from the mission. We are aware that Russia is endangering not only Ukraine but the whole globe by posing a nuclear disaster risk, Kuleba stated in Stockholm.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said that Ukraine had been bombarding the factory and its surroundings.
He said, “We think that all nations must put pressure on the Ukrainian side to make it cease endangering the European continent by attacking the region of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power facility and nearby territories.
In light of the ongoing dangers brought on by the Ukrainian side’s unrelenting bombardment, Peskov said that Russia will assure the security of the IAEA mission.
By publishing a map indicating the potential areas of radiation spread from the Zaporizhzhia facility, which Russian troops have occupied since shortly after the conflict started, Ukraine’s nuclear energy organization has presented a gloomy image of the danger.
Attacks were also reported over the weekend in areas under Russian and Ukrainian control on opposite banks of the Dnieper River from the plant, including the towns of Nikopol and Marhanets, which are both approximately 10 kilometers (six miles) apart.
Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, said on Sunday that Ukrainian troops had assaulted the facility twice on the previous day and that rounds had landed close to structures housing reactor fuel and radioactive waste.
Five of the projectiles landed in front of the sixth unit pumping station, which provides cooling for this reactor, and one was near the sixth power unit, according to Konashenkov, who also noted that radiation levels were normal. The charges couldn’t be independently verified.
Two of the six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia facility were operational, the radiation levels were normal, and recent fighting had damaged a water conduit, which had since been repaired, according to the IAEA’s report published on Sunday. A full evaluation had not yet been completed.
However, in a conflict that is already in its seventh month, Monday’s lone bit of positive news scarcely managed to dispel the general dread that hangs over everything from frontline communities to the world’s food supply and the global economy.
Over the previous 24 hours, the eastern Donetsk area has recorded the most losses, eight people dead and seven injured. Overnight, Sloviansk and Kostyantynivka were attacked by Russian forces, and Pavlo Kyrylenko, the region’s Ukrainian governor, urged the people still inside to leave right away.
Cluster bombs were used to attack Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, on Monday morning, according to the regional governor Oleh Syniehubov.
Heavy combat and several Ukrainian attacks were also reported by Ukraine’s presidential office in the southern Kherson area, the majority of which is controlled by the Russians. Recently, Ukrainian soldiers have attacked nearby Russian military sites and munitions storage facilities.