IAEA mission in Zaporiyia: the nuclear power plant "has been breached"

One of the plant's reactors suffered a blackout hours before the arrival of the UN mission

PHOTO/TWITTER vía @rafaelmgrossi  -   Team of inspectors and experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrive in Zaporiyya

"The physical integrity of the Zaporiyia power plant has been violated". These were the first statements made by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, after the UN team carried out the first investigation at the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, which has been under the control of the Russian army for six months.

Upon arrival, the inspectors' mission encountered its first difficulties. To begin with, the Ukrainian atomic energy agency, Energoatom, reported that one of the two reactors - currently in operation - was shut down a few hours before their arrival. In addition, the area around the power plant has seen a revival of warfare offensives, with both Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of being responsible for causing the delay in the arrival of the UN team.

PHOTO/TWITTER vía @rafaelmgrossi  - A team of inspectors and experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before their departure for the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant in the Ukrainian oblast of Zaporiyia on 29 August 2022

Despite the escalation of war in the region, the IAEA team continued its work because of the "risk" of the situation escalating. Moreover, Russia granted the team only one day to carry out inspections inside the facilities, something that has been rejected by UN members who demand more time. In this sense, the United States is pushing for the delegation to continue to have free access to the facilities. This is what the spokesman for the US Security Council, John Kirby, has demanded, after affirming that "it is important that these inspectors can do their work".

According to Grossi, on this first visit, the representative of the mission has already seen "what he needed to see". He said that "in a few hours we were able to gather a lot of information. I saw the main things I needed to see and his explanations were very clear". The representative of the mission reiterated that it is "clear that the physical integrity of the plant was violated on several occasions", something that "cannot happen again". 

Central nuclear de Zaporiyia vía YouTube/vía REUTERS  - Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Ukraine, on 4 March 2022

For this reason, and in order to ensure its integrity and safety, Grossi has announced that the UN agency will remain at the plant. In a video broadcast by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Grossi pointed out the need to "let the world know that the IAEA remains in Zaporiyia". The 14-member team's visit was initially expected to last until 3 September. However, the fragility of the situation has meant that part of the unit has stayed behind to secure the plant.

Meanwhile, Ukraine and Russia continue to blame each other for attacks on the infrastructure. Although the plant is under Russian control, it is the Ukrainians who are in charge of the plant's operations. As a result, since Russia took over the plant, accusations of responsibility for the attacks have been made on both sides.

AFP/AFP  -   Map of the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, under Russian control since March

On the one hand, Moscow claims to have neutralised an attempt by Ukrainian forces to take control of the Zaporiyia plant, while the pro-Russian governor of the province, Yevgeny Babitsky, has denounced an alleged artillery attack on the nearby town of Enerdogar, currently controlled by the Russians, leaving three dead and five wounded.

However, Kiev accuses Russia of turning the plant into a military base and opening fire from inside it on Ukrainian positions, knowing the risk of a nuclear accident. 

AFP PHOTO / Russian Defence Ministry - This screenshot taken from a video released by the Russian Ministry of Defence on 4 March 2022 shows a destroyed Ukrainian army tank in the settlement of Gnutovo, outside Mariupol

Both Russia and Ukraine have no interest in such an accident. On the one hand, Moscow's strategy to take control of the plant could be a response to Russia's intentions to control the country's electricity grid, since the Zaporiyia plant produces around half of the electricity generated by all the Ukrainian power plants.

On the other hand, Kiev indicates that Moscow is trying to control nuclear energy in order to carry out an attack, in a scenario that for the moment is not being contemplated but is being closely monitored to avoid what would be "destruction". This is how UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres referred to the situation, after stating that "humanity is one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation".