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UN watchdog appeals for access to Ukrainian nuclear plant

russia's attack on ukraine continues, in nikopol
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is seen from an embankment of the Dnipro river in the town of Nikopol, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine July 20, 2022. REUTERS/Dmytro Smolienko

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog appealed for access to a Ukrainian nuclear power plant now controlled by Russian forces to determine whether it was a source of danger. Contact with Europe’s largest nuclear plant, which is at Zaporizhzhia and is being operated by Ukrainian technicians, was “fragile” and communications did not function every day, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi told Swiss paper Tages-Anzeiger.

“We can’t afford faulty communication with the plant in areas relevant to safety. We know of allegations that live ammunition is stored in the plant, that there are attacks on the power plant,” he said in an interview published in German.

“Frankly, if I don’t have access, I can’t determine that. There are contradictions between the accounts of the Russian and Ukrainian sides. I receive information, I also mention it in my situation reports, but I have no way of determining whether it corresponds to the facts.”

A Russian-installed official in Ukraine said on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had repeatedly used Western arms to attack the plant, which has two of six reactors operating and has been the subject of repeated warnings from Ukraine, the West and Russia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday called Russia’s actions around the plant “the height of irresponsibility”, accusing Moscow of using it as a “nuclear shield” in attacks on Ukrainian forces.

Reuters was unable to verify battlefield accounts from either side of the war.

Grossi said the UN discussions with parties to the conflict covered a proposed accord on security zones around nuclear plants but he saw no willingness to strike a deal at this stage.

Access to the plant was difficult and overland travel through occupied territory would require special security arrangements, he said. Talks with the Ukrainian government on arranging a visit were under way.

The agency has at times reported losing connection with surveillance systems that keep track of nuclear material at the power plant.

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