Mar 29, 2022 - World

UN atomic energy chief arrives in Ukraine as invasion threatens nuclear facilities

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a news conference in Vienna, Austria on Friday.
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a news conference at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, earlier this month. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday for talks with governmental officials over the safety of country's nuclear facilities throughout Russia's invasion.

Why it matters: Multiple Ukrainian nuclear facilities have been seized and are now controlled by Russian forces, increasing the risk of mismanagement and a possible incident.

Russian forces claimed the inoperative Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which still houses nuclear waste, on the first day of the invasion, and its staff were held hostage and forced to operate the plant for around 600 hours before they were allowed to leave.

  • The plant lost direct power and had to rely on emergency diesel generators for several days after power lines were damaged. The IAEA also said it was no longer receiving data from monitoring systems installed at the plant and other facilities.
  • Russia also controls the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southeastern Ukraine, the largest nuclear station in Europe. It claimed the station after engaging in open combat with Ukrainian forces near the plant's six reactors.

What they're saying: “The military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger," Grossi said in a statement.

  • "We must take urgent action to make sure that they can continue to operate safely and securely and reduce the risk of a nuclear accident that could have a severe health and environmental impact both in Ukraine and beyond,” he added.
  • “There have already been several close calls. We can’t afford to lose any more time. This conflict is already causing unimaginable human suffering and destruction."

The IAEA said Grossi would travel to one of Ukraine's nuclear facilities and would, during talks with government officials, outline the agency's plan to deliver technical assistance for Ukraine's nuclear facilities to "help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment."

The big picture: Ukraine's parliament said last week that satellite images captured by the European Space Agency showed that multiple forest fires have recently ignited near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.

  • Energoatom, Ukraine's state nuclear company, also warned last week that radiation levels around Chernobyl risked rising because its radiation monitoring system and forest fire-fighting services were not working, according to Reuters.

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