Sep 6, 2022 - World

Nuclear watchdog warns of possible disaster in Ukraine

Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station near the town of Energodar in August 2022.
Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Photo: Victor/Xinhua via Getty Images

The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency is urging Russian and Ukrainian leaders to create a "security protection zone" around Europe's largest nuclear power station after inspectors found damage to a building that stores "fresh nuclear fuel and the solid radioactive waste."

Why it matters: In a report published Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said "there is an urgent need for interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident" at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been damaged by shelling in Russia's ongoing assault.

  • The agency also said its inspectors had to evacuate and shelter in an administrative building during their visit after they "closely witnessed shelling in the vicinity" of the nuclear facility.

What they're saying: "While the ongoing shelling has not yet triggered a nuclear emergency, it continues to represent a constant threat to nuclear safety and security with potential impact on critical safety functions that may lead to radiological consequences with great safety significance," the report reads.

  • "The IAEA recommends that shelling on site and in its vicinity should be stopped immediately to avoid any further damages to the plant and associated facilities, for the safety of the operating staff and to maintain the physical integrity to support safe and secure operation," it continues.
  • "This requires agreement by all relevant parties to the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the [Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant]."

Background: IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said on Monday that four agency experts left the plant as planned while two others were staying "to maintain a continuing IAEA presence at the site, enabling the Agency to observe the situation there and provide independent assessments."

  • He said Ukrainian officials informed the agency that the plant again lost connection to the Ukrainian power grid because of a fire near its last remaining transmission line, though "its sole operating reactor" continued to produce the electricity needed for cooling and other nuclear safety functions.

The big picture: Russian forces have had a military presence at or near the plant since seizing it in March, though it is still operated by its Ukrainian staff.

  • Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for shelling around the plant and have accused each other of planning "false flag" attacks on it.
  • Numerous countries and international organizations have condemned the recent military activity near Zaporizhzhia and have called on Russia to remove its military personnel and weaponry from the plant.

Go deeper: Zelensky says Russian forces using Zaporizhzhia plant as "nuclear weapon"

Go deeper