ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Fighting raged Friday near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in a Russian-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine, as inspectors from the UN’s nuclear watchdog expressed concern over the facility’s “physical integrity” but neither belligerent blamed side.
International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Rafael Grossi said he expects to release a report early next week, once we have a full picture of the situation more or less by the end of the weekend.
After returning from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, he told reporters in Vienna that he will inform the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
“We saw what I wanted to see — everything I wanted to see,” Grossi said, adding that his major concerns were the “physical integrity,” the facility’s power supply and the situation of the staff.
“Military activities and operations are increasing in that part of the country, and that worries me greatly,” he said. “Clearly, the statistical possibility of more physical damage is there.”
He noted that the shelling started in August and “it’s clearly a more recent trend,” but he didn’t blame the damage done so far.
The head of Ukraine’s nuclear watchdog, Oleh Korikov, said Ukrainian officials would “want more decisive actions and statements” from IAEA inspectors. “But let’s wait until the mission is over,” he added.
Local Russian authorities said on Friday that plant workers restarted a key reactor hours after shelling forced it to shut down the day before. Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear power operator, confirmed on its Telegram channel that the reactivated reactor had been reconnected to the grid.
Aleksandr Volga, the Kremlin-backed mayor of Enerhodar, where the plant in Zaporizhizhia is located, told Interfax news agency that the facility now had two working reactors, out of a total of six.
The head of Ukraine’s powerful National Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said Ukrainian authorities were not fully aware of the situation at the plant at this time — despite the presence of the IAEA team that arrived on Thursday.
In an interview with The Associated PressDanilov – a key official in Ukraine’s war effort – said: “I want to emphasize that this is a challenge for the whole world, how not to make this nuclear facility dangerous.”
Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the shelling that led to the temporary shutdown of the reactor by its emergency protection system on Thursday. Energoatom said the attack damaged a backup power line used for internal needs, and one of the plant’s reactors that failed had switched to diesel generators.
The British Ministry of Defense said earlier Friday that shelling continued in the area near the plant, and the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian shelling damaged homes, gas pipelines and other infrastructure on the other bank of the Dnieper River. of fighting in various areas of eastern and southern Ukraine at night.
Russian-backed officials in Enerhodar claimed Russian forces shot down an armed Ukrainian drone near the factory on Friday.
“Ukrainian militants apparently continue to try to attack the factory, despite the fact that there are IAEA employees,” the city council’s press service said in a statement.
In its regular Friday night update, the Ukrainian military said it had carried out a “precision strike” in Enerhodar, but failed to acknowledge or directly respond to the claims of Kremlin-backed officials. It said the attack destroyed three artillery systems, an ammunition depot and a company of personnel.
Russia and Ukraine exchanged accusations that the other side was trying to obstruct the work of the IAEA experts or control the message.
Zelenskyy had harsh words for the IAEA delegation in his late night speech on Thursday. While applauding the factory’s arrival, he said independent journalists could not cover the visit, which allowed the Russians to present a one-sided, “vain tour”.
In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow considered the mission’s arrival “positive,” “despite all the problems and difficulties caused by the Ukrainian side’s provocative actions.”
The 14-strong delegation arrived in a convoy of SUVs and vans after months of negotiations to allow the experts to pass through the front lines. They braved gunfire and artillery explosions along the route.
Grossi said on Friday that six of the agency’s experts will remain at the factory and that there will be “permanent presence on site…with two of our experts continuing the work.” He was not specific about exactly how long the two experts will stay.
“The difference between being there and not being there is like night and day,” he said.
The factory is occupied by Russian troops, but has been run by Ukrainian engineers since the start of the 6-month war.
Grossi said there was a “professional modus vivendi” on the site. He said it was “admirable for the Ukrainian experts to continue working under these conditions”.
“It’s not an easy situation; it’s a tense situation, it’s not an ideal situation, it’s a situation that everyone has to deal with,” he said.
Ukraine claims that Russia is using the factory as a shield to carry out attacks. On Friday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu rejected the Ukrainian allegations and said Russia has no heavy weapons on the site or in nearby areas.
Shoigu said Ukrainian forces fired 120 artillery shells and used 16 suicide drones to hit the factory, “raising a real threat of nuclear catastrophe in Europe.”
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s office on Friday said four people were killed and ten injured in the eastern Donetsk region, a key hub of the Russian invasion.
___ Joanna Kozlowska in London and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.