A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) set off today (31 August) from the Ukrainian capital towards the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to inspect for damage after shelling nearby sparked fears of a radiation disaster.
Russian forces captured the plant soon after they launched their 24 February invasion of Ukraine and it is close to front lines. Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations of firing shells that have endangered the plant.
A witness said the IAEA team set off from Kyiv in a convoy of vehicles. The mission is being led by the IAEA chief Rafael Grossi and comes after extensive negotiations.
“We are now finally moving after six months of strenuous efforts,” Grossi told reporters before the convoy set off, adding that the mission planned to spend “a few days” at the site.
“We have a very important task there to perform – to assess the real situations there, to help stabilise the situation as much as we can.”
It was not clear when the IAEA team would reach Europe’s biggest nuclear plant and when it would conduct its inspection. Both sides in the war have in recent days reported regular shelling in the vicinity.
“We are going to a war zone, we are going to occupied territory and this requires explicit guarantees, not only from the Russian federation but also from Ukraine. We have been able to secure that,” Grossi said.
He said the IAEA hoped to set up a permanent mission at the plant, which is being run by Ukrainian technicians.
“That’s one of the most important things I want to do and I will do it,” he said.
The United States has urged a complete shutdown of the plant and called for a demilitarised zone around it.
The Interfax news agency quoted a Russian-appointed Zaporizhzhia government official as saying on Wednesday that two of the plant’s six reactors were running.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Russian-installed administration, told Interfax that the IAEA inspectors “must see the work of the station in one day”.
Ukraine on Tuesday (30 August) accused Russia of shelling a corridor that IAEA officials would need to use to reach the plant in an effort to get them to travel via Russian-annexed Crimea instead. There was no immediate response from Russia.
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