KYIV: United Nations inspectors spent a second day on Friday at a Russian-held nuclear plant and at least two will remain on a permanent basis to ensure safety after the International Atomic Energy Agency said the site had been “violated” by the fighting in Ukraine.

A 14-strong IAEA team visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Thursday as global concern grew over its safety in a war raging ever closer to its six reactors.

Russian troops seized control of the site _ Europe’s biggest atomic facility _ in early March.

“It is obvious that the plant and physical integrity of the plant has been violated several times,” IAEA head Rafael Grossi said on Thursday as he and part of his team returned to Ukrainian-controlled territory after a productive first visit lasting around three hours.

Mr Gross said some of his inspectors would stay at the plant “until Sunday or Monday” to “dig deeper” into some of the observations the team had made to draw up a report.

He did not specify how many stayed behind, but said the agency would retain a permanent presence there.

“We have achieved something very important today, and the important thing is the IAEA is staying here.”

Russia’s envoy to IAEA, Mikhail Ulyanov, said six inspectors had stayed behind and that two more would remain there “on a permanent basis”.

“Six (IAEA) employees will stay at the plant for a few more days and then they will return to Vienna (the agency’s headquarters),” he told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

“Two people will stay at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on a permanent basis.

“We welcome this because an international presence can dispel the many rumours about the state of affairs at the nuclear power plant.” The Kremlin described the inspectors’ arrival at the plant as “very positive”.

“In general, we are very positive about the fact that, despite all the difficulties and problems… the commission arrived and started to work,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

‘Stop playing with fire’

A shelling attack on the area at dawn on Thursday had forced one of the plant’s six reactors to close in what Ukraine’s Energoatom nuclear agency said was “the second time in 10 days” that Russian shelling had forced the closure of a reactor.

It said the plant’s emergency protection system kicked in, shutting reactor five, with the attack damaging a back-up power supply.

The shelling left only one of the six reactors working.

Red Cross chief Robert Mardini had warned on Thursday the consequences of hitting the plant could be “catastrophic”, saying “the slightest miscalculation could trigger devastation that we will regret for decades”.

“It is high time to stop playing with fire and instead take concrete measures to protect this facility… from any military operations,” he told reporters in Kyiv.

Both sides have traded repeated accusations over who was responsible for the shelling the area around Energodar, the town which lies next door to the plant on the south bank of the Dnipro River.

Ukraine has accused Russia of storing ammunition at the plant and deploying hundreds of soldiers there.

And it also suspects Moscow is intending to divert power from the plant to the nearby Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2022

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