A team of IAEA experts and inspectors leave the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Aug 31, 2022. The UN nuclear watchdog team set off on an urgent mission to safeguard the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at the heart of fighting in Ukraine. (EFREM LUKATSKY / AP)
KYIV – The International Atomic Energy Agency mission to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant in southern Ukraine arrived in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia on Wednesday, from where they will travel to the Russian-occupied power station.
The IAEA mission, headed by the organization's chief Rafael Grossi, intends to inspect the Zaporizhzhia plant after its territory was repeatedly shelled over the last month, with Ukraine and Russia trading blame over the attacks.
Russian forces captured the plant soon after they launched their special military operation in Ukraine on Feb 24 and it is close to front lines.
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"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 stabilize 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 conflict 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.
This handout photo taken and released by the Ukrainian presidential press service on Aug 30, 2022, shows Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi posing prior to their meeting in Kyiv. (UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP)
He said the IAEA hoped to set up a permanent mission at the plant, which is being run by Ukrainian technicians. Grossi said one of the priorities of the mission would be speaking to them.
"That’s one of the most important things I want to do and I will do it,” he said.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with the IAEA chief to discuss the IAEA mission to the Zaporizhzhia power plant, the presidential press service reported.
There are risks of incidents at the plant, failure of nuclear reactors, disconnection of Zaporizhzhia NPP units from our network
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President
At the talks, Zelensky and Grossi stressed the importance of sending the IAEA mission to the plant, noting that any incident at the facility would have global consequences.
Speaking highly of the IAEA visit to Ukraine, the Ukrainian leader said: "There are risks of incidents at the plant, failure of nuclear reactors, disconnection of Zaporizhzhia NPP units from our network.”
The United States has urged a complete shutdown of the plant and called for a demilitarized 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 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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Ukraine's armed forces general staff said Russia was attacking with tanks, rockets and artillery along a contact line in the Zaporizhzhia region – part of which, including the city of Zaporizhzhia, remains under Ukraine's control.
"The enemy is regrouping units of the 3rd Army Corps … with the aim of resuming the offensive in the (Zaporizhzhia) direction," it said.