Apr 1, 2022 - World

UN atomic energy chief to lead mission to Chernobyl

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, during a press conference in Vienna on April 1.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, during a press conference in Vienna on April 1. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

The International Atomic Energy Agency's top official said Friday he will lead a mission to Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant "as soon as possible" after some Russian troops left the area Thursday.

Why it matters: The power plant — the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster — fell under Russian control in the first day of its invasion of Ukraine. While the plant is inoperative, the site still houses and processes nuclear waste.

The IAEA confirmed Thursday that several Russian troops had left the plant and the city of Slavutych, where many of the plant's staff live. The troops transferred control to Ukrainian personnel before moving toward Belarus.

  • Previously, Russia held the plant's staff members hostage and forced them 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.
  • Ukrainian officials said there were still some Russian troops in the "exclusion zone" around the power plant on Friday morning but did not say what they were doing or where they might be headed, according to Reuters.

What they're saying: "I will head an IAEA assistance and support mission to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible. It will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to Ukraine," said Rafael Grossi, director general of the IAEA, in a tweet Friday.

  • During a press conference Friday in Vienna, Grossi said the IAEA has not received data from the plant's monitoring systems for several days now.
  • He had just returned to Vienna from trips to Ukraine and Russia for meetings with government officials earlier this week about the safety of nuclear facilities amid the war.

The big picture: Russia still controls at least one other Ukrainian nuclear facility.

  • It seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southeastern Ukraine — the largest nuclear station in Europe — after battling with Ukrainian forces on March 4.
  • It's unclear if Russia intends to relinquish control of Zaporizhzhia as well, or if the withdrawal from Chernobyl was part of its supposed shift in focus toward the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.
  • Grossi said Russian officials did not explain their withdrawal from Chernobyl in meetings earlier this week.

Go deeper: The latest on Russia's invasion of Ukraine

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