Fighting at Ukraine plant 'could undermine faith in nuclear power'

Western diplomats tell Russia to withdraw its troops from Zaporizhzhia site

Russian forces occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant early on in the invasion of Ukraine. EPA
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Western diplomats warned on Tuesday that fighting near a Ukrainian nuclear power plant could damage faith in atomic energy.

A UN meeting in Vienna on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy was told that reports of shelling near the plant had heightened the risk of an accident.

The US and UK urged Russia to withdraw its troops from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant occupied by Moscow's forces.

US diplomat Laura Holgate said any damage to nuclear reactors would “damage global development, damage efforts to address climate change” and undermine a non-proliferation treaty – “and that would be on Russia”.

“Any damage to Ukrainian nuclear reactors would feed into public distrust of nuclear technology in general and challenge public acceptance of even the non-power applications of nuclear science and technology in areas like food safety, health and water resource management,” she said.

UK representative Corinne Kitsell said Russia's behaviour “undermines public confidence in the peaceful use of nuclear technologies”.

“Russia’s barbaric attacks on Ukraine’s civil infrastructure and its unprecedented and illegal control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is contrary to all international nuclear safety and security norms,” he said.

Canada said the success of the non-proliferation treaty in “fostering the use of nuclear energy for peaceful uses” was being “directly undermined” by Russia's invasion.

France, in turn, said the energy crisis unleashed by the war had bolstered the case for nuclear as a means of securing energy independence in Europe.

Russia did not comment on the situation at the plant. In interventions at the UN meeting, it has blamed western powers for high nuclear tension.

The UAE last week said it “strongly condemns” reported acts of violence near the plant and said averting a nuclear catastrophe was “of utmost importance”.

Russian troops occupied the Zaporizhzhia plant early on in the invasion but it continues to be operated by Ukrainian staff.

UN inspectors say the world is lucky there has been no nuclear disaster. They recently reported finding anti-personnel mines on the edge of the Zaporizhzhia site.

Updated: August 08, 2023, 3:57 PM