A United Nations team of nuclear experts completed its first safety and security tour of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on Thursday, even as fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces raged near the facility.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi, leading a 14-member inspection group, told reporters the agency was “establishing our continued presence” at Europe’s biggest nuclear facility, but offered no public assessment of what he saw.
The U.N. inspectors arrived at the nuclear site even though Grossi said there was “increased military activity, including this morning.”
The attacks forced the shutdown of one of the plant’s nuclear reactors before the inspectors arrived, but Grossi said, “Weighing the pros and cons and having come so far, we are not stopping.
“We have a very important mission to accomplish,” he noted, adding, “We are going to start immediately an assessment of the security and the safety situation at the plant.
“I am going to consider the possibility of establishing a continued presence of the IAEA at the plant, which we believe is indispensable to stabilize the situation and to get regular, reliable, impartial, neutral updates of what the situation is there,” Grossi said.
Russia said some Ukrainian shells landed 400 meters from the plant’s No. 1 reactor on Thursday, while the Kyiv government accused Moscow’s forces of attacking the city where the plant is located, Enerhodar, and the corridor the U.N. inspectors traveled through.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been controlled by Russia since the earliest days of its invasion but is operated by Ukrainian engineers. Each side has accused the other of imperiling the facility with continued attacks in the region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow expects “impartiality” from the U.N. inspectors.
“We are taking all the necessary measures to ensure that the plant is secure, that it functions safely and that the mission accomplishes all of its plans there,” he said.
With the nuclear plant in the midst of a war zone, world leaders have expressed fears it could be damaged and result in a radiation disaster like that at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant in 1986.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reiterated his call Wednesday for Russia to fully demilitarize the area around the plant.
“They are playing games. They are gambling with the nuclear security,” Borrell said. “We cannot play war games in the neighborhood of a site like this.”
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder welcomed the presence of the IAEA team and called on Russia to enable them to do their work.
Ryder also announced U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will lead a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on September 8 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Ryder said the meeting, the group’s fifth, would bring together defense ministers and senior military officials from 50 nations to discuss the Ukraine conflict and coordination for Ukraine aid.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday there would be an announcement in the coming days about “future security assistance” for Ukraine on top of the $13 billion already pledged by the United States.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.