Ukraine’s nuclear plant is ‘out of control’: UN nuclear chief

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks as Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi listens during a news conference at the Iikura guest house in Tokyo on May 19.Hiro Komae/The Associated Press

The UN nuclear chief has warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine “is completely out of control” and issued an urgent call for Russia and Ukraine to quickly allow experts to visit the sprawling complex to stabilize the nuclear power plant. situation and avoid a nuclear accident.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press that the situation is becoming more dangerous by the day at the Zaporizhzhya plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, that the Russian troops took over in early March, shortly after. after his invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“All nuclear safety principles have been violated” at the plant, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely serious and dangerous.”

Grossi cited many security breaches at the plant, adding that it is “in a place where there is an active war,” close to Russian-controlled territory.

The physical integrity of the plant has not been respected, he said, citing shelling at the beginning of the war when it was taken over and continuing reports of Ukraine and Russia accusing each other of attacks on Zaporizhzhya.

There is “a paradoxical situation” in which the plant is controlled by Russia, but its Ukrainian personnel continue to direct its nuclear operations, leading to inevitable moments of friction and alleged violence, he said. While the IAEA does have some contacts with staff, they are “flawed” and “irregular,” he said.

Grossi said the supply chain for equipment and spare parts has been disrupted, “so we’re not sure the plant is getting everything it needs.” The IAEA also needs to carry out very important inspections to ensure that nuclear material is being safeguarded, “and there is a lot of nuclear material there to be inspected,” he said.

“When you put this together, you have a catalog of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility,” Grossi said. “And that’s why I’ve been insisting from day one that we have to be able to go there to do this safety and security assessment, to do the repairs and help like we already did in Chernobyl.”

The Russian capture of Zaporizhzhya renewed fears that the largest of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors could be damaged, triggering another emergency like the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, which occurred some 110 kilometers (65 miles). ) north of the capital Kyiv.

Russian forces occupied the highly contaminated site shortly after the invasion, but returned control to the Ukrainians in late March. Grossi visited Chernobyl on April 27 and tweeted that the level of security was “like a ‘red light’ flashing.” But he said Tuesday that the IAEA set up “an assistance mission” in Chernobyl at the time “that has been very, very successful so far.”

The IAEA needs to go to Zaporizhzhya, as it did with Chernobyl, to determine the facts of what is really happening there, to carry out repairs and inspections and “to prevent a nuclear accident from happening,” Grossi said.

The IAEA chief said he and his team need protection to reach the plant and urgent cooperation from Russia and Ukraine.

Each side wants this international mission to start from different places, which is understandable in light of territorial integrity and political considerations, he said, but something more urgent is getting the IAEA team to Zaporizhzhya.

“The IAEA, with its presence, will deter any act of violence against this nuclear power plant,” Grossi said. “So I plead as an international civil servant, as the head of an international organization, I plead with both parties to allow this mission to continue.”

Grossi was in New York to deliver a keynote address at Monday’s opening of the long-overdue high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ultimately , achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. .

In the interview, the IAEA chief also discussed efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that the Trump administration abandoned in 2018 and the Biden administration has been working to renew.

Grossi said there is “an ongoing effort to try to go to another meeting or round to explore the possibilities of reaching an agreement.” He said that he heard the meeting “could be soon.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the NPT review conference on Monday that Iran “has been unwilling or unable” to agree to a deal to return to the 2015 deal aimed at controlling its nuclear program.

Grossi said “there are important differences between the negotiating parties” and significant verification issues related to past activities that Iran must address. “It’s not impossible, it’s complex,” he said.

If the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, is not extended, he said some IAEA inspections will continue. But the JCPOA provides transparency and additional inspections “which I think are extremely important, very necessary, given the breadth and depth of the nuclear program in Iran,” he said.

Grossi stressed that cooperating with the IAEA, answering its questions, allowing its inspectors to go where needed, is essential for Iran to build trust. “Promises and fine words don’t work,” he said.

On another topic, Grossi said last September’s deal in which the United States and Britain will provide Australia with nuclear reactors to power its submarines requires an agreement with the IAEA to ensure that the amount of nuclear material on the ship when it leaves port be there when he comes back.

He said Australia has not decided what type of vessel it will receive, so while there have been preparatory talks, substantive talks cannot begin.

Because it is a military vessel, Grossi said, “there are a lot of confidential and information protection measures that need to be built into any deal like this, so it’s very technologically complex.”

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