As Russian and Ukrainian forces continue to fight for possession of Europe’s biggest nuclear power station there’s a “very real risk of nuclear disaster,” says the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA, says that the continued fighting near the massive Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which was captured by Russian troops in March, could bring about a Chernobyl-style disaster.
He has urged both sides to exercise the "utmost restraint" around the plant. The occupying Russian forces have using the plant to store their heavy weapons, leading to Ukrainian artillery attacks.
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Shells hit a high-voltage power line on Friday (July 5) at the plant, prompting its operators to disconnect a reactor, although no radiation leaks are thought too have been detected.
But Grossi stressed that continue fighting close to Zaporizhzhia risked the safety and security of the plant and “must be avoided at all costs".
"Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would amount to playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” he warned.
Grossi urged the Russians to allow safe passage for an IAEA inspection team to check on the status of the reactor.
He said that while Ukrainian workers were still being allowed to administer the day-to-day running of the plant, “patchy” communications were making it impossible to assess safety conditions there.
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“I’m pleading,” he said, “as an international civil servant, as the head of an international organisation, I’m pleading to both sides to let this mission proceed.”
He added that the power plant is undergoing a “catalogue of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility”
Ukraine's state nuclear power company Energoatom blamed Russia for the damage at the power station and the country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that an explosion at Zaporizhzhia could be “the end of Europe” .
An administrative building was damaged when the Russians took possession of the plant in March, but the reactors were not thought to have been damaged.
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