Shelling hits Zaporizhzhia as UN nuclear inspectors arrive

Fears have been raised about Europe's biggest nuclear facility after weeks of shelling

UN vehicles carrying IAEA inspectors leave Kyiv on Wednesday for the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

An IAEA team arrived in Zaporizhzhia for a key inspection of the precarious Ukraine nuclear plant as shelling continued despite the start of the mission to assess the facility’s safety.

Fears have been raised about Europe's biggest nuclear power station, which has been occupied by Russian troops since the early stages of the conflict and was last week cut off from the Ukraine electricity grid.

Also on Wednesday the EU new restrictions on Russians in response to the conflict that started in February. The suspension of a visa facilitation agreement will put extra bureaucratic hurdles in the way of Russian tourists who apply for tourist visas to travel in Europe's Schengen travel zome.

"It’s going to be more difficult, it’s going to be longer, the process, and consequently the number of new visas will be substantially reduced," said Mr Borrell, after agreement was reached in principle to suspend the deal.

However, EU members also agreed that visas should continue to be granted in individual cases to Russians who represent civil society or oppose the war in Ukraine, he said.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team said it was aware of the risks as it inspects and assesses any damage to the site. “We are going to a war zone. We are going to occupied territory,” Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said of the first mission of its kind for the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

The IAEA delegation must cross the frontline between the opposing forces to carry out its efforts to ensure the safety of the plant. In a measure of the dangers, Russia-backed local authorities in Zaporizhzhia claimed Ukrainian forces shelled the surrounding site and the nearby town of Enerhodar overnight, while local officials said a building at the plant was hit by the Kremlin's forces.

“This is the first time, it’s the first time of anybody’s going to cross the front line,” said mr Grossi, adding that he had received “explicit guarantees” from Russia that the mission of 14 experts would be able to work there.

The most recent strikes included a drone attack which damaged the administrative building. Another drone hit the training centre, the administration at the Russian controlled plant said.

It said there were no casualties or release of radioactivity.

A view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region.  REUTERS / Alexander Ermochenko

Ukraine on Tuesday accused the Russians of bombing the inspectors' roads to the plant to try to encourage them to change route and move through Russia-controlled areas.

The power plant has been under the control of Russian forces and operated by Ukrainian workers since the early days of the six-month-old conflict.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell renewed a call to Russia for the area around the power plant to be fully demilitarised.

“They are playing games. They are gambling with the nuclear security,” Mr Borrell said. “We cannot play war games in the neighbourhood of a site like this.”

Keeping the energy pressure on Europe, Russia's Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline for three days, in the latest in a series of supply halts that have fuelled an energy crisis in Europe.

Gazprom said "preventative work" at a compressor unit had forced it to turn off the tap and said it would also suspend gas supplies to France's main provider Engie from Thursday over what it said were missed payments.

Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko said on Wednesday that Kyiv hoped to take back control of the facility by the end of the year.

“We have information that they are now trying to hide their military presence, so they should check all of this,” he said of the UN mission.

Kyiv is seeking international assistance to try to demilitarise the area.

The plant was recently cut off temporarily from the electrical grid because of fire damage, causing a power cut in the region and heightening fears of a catastrophe in a country haunted by the Chernobyl disaster.

Zaporizhzhia is a vital source of energy for Ukraine and has been connected to its power grid by engineers. .

The risks in the area are so severe that officials have begun distributing anti-radiation iodine tablets to residents.

Updated: September 01, 2022, 5:37 AM