- IAEA team leaves Kiev for nuclear power plant
- Mission is expected to start with inspection on Thursday
- Unclear how long inspection can take
- Ukraine claims successes in military counter-offensive
- Russia stops gas flows through major pipeline
KYIV, Aug. 31 (Reuters) – UN nuclear inspectors set out in convoy for Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant on Wednesday after weeks of shelling in the area heightened fears of a Chernobyl-style radiation disaster, which sparked tensions between Kiev and Moscow during increased the visit.
A Reuters reporter who followed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, said it was likely that the inspectors would spend a night in the nearby city of Zaporizhzhya before visiting the plant, which located in the territory controlled by Russia. Thursday.
Russian-installed officials in the area suggested the visit could last just one day, while IAEA and Ukrainian officials suggested it could take longer.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
“We are now finally moving after six months of strenuous efforts,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told reporters before the convoy departed, adding that the mission planned to spend “a few days” at the site.
“We have a very important task to fulfill there – to assess the real situation there, to help stabilize the situation as much as possible. We are going to a war zone, we are going to occupied territory and this requires explicit guarantees, not only from the Russian Federation, but also from Ukraine. We were able to secure that,” said Grossi.
Russia captured the factory, Europe’s largest, in early March as part of what Moscow calls its “special military operation,” something Kiev and the West have described as an unprovoked invasion designed to take land and preserve Ukrainian identity. to erase.
Since then, a Russian military force has been at the plant, as have most of the Ukrainian workforce who have struggled to keep the facility, which traditionally supplied Ukraine with 20 percent of its electricity needs, running.
Ukraine and Russia have accused each other for weeks of endangering the safety of the factory with artillery or drone strikes.
Kiev says Russia has used the factory as a shield to attack towns and cities, knowing it will be difficult for Ukraine to fire back. It has also accused Russian troops of shelling the factory.
“The situation at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and in Enerhodar and the surrounding areas remains extremely dangerous,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late on Tuesday. “The chance of a radiation disaster due to Russian actions does not decrease for an hour.”
The Russian Defense Ministry has said radiation levels at the plant are normal.
Moscow has denied Ukrainian claims of reckless behavior and wonders why it would shell a facility where its own troops are stationed as what it describes as a security detail.
Moscow, in turn, has accused Ukrainians of shelling the factory in order to provoke international outrage, which Kiev hopes will lead to a demilitarized zone. Russia has said it has no plans to withdraw its troops for the time being.
Kiev and Moscow both claimed battlefield successes on Wednesday as Ukraine launched a counter-offensive to retake territory in the south. Reuters was unable to independently verify such reports. read more
Outside of Ukraine, Russia halted gas supplies via the largest pipeline to its largest customer Germany, putting the prospect of recession and energy rationing into winter in some of Europe’s richest countries. read more
Ukrainian allies have accused Russia of using energy as a weapon in retaliation for Western sanctions. Moscow denies this and cites technical reasons for austerity.
QUESTIONS AND DOUBTS
Grossi said one of his priorities was to talk to the Ukrainian technicians who run the plant.
“That’s one of the most important things I want to do and I will do it,” he said.
However, it was not immediately clear how long the inspectors would be able to stay at the plant.
Russia said it welcomed the IAEA’s intention to set up a permanent mission at the plant.
But Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian-installed administration in the area, told Interfax news agency that IAEA inspectors should “see the station’s work in one day.”
The United States has pushed for a complete shutdown of the factory and has called for a demilitarized zone around it.
The Interfax news agency on Wednesday quoted a Russian-appointed local official as saying that two of the plant’s six reactors were in operation.
The factory is close to the front lines, and Ukrainian armed forces accused Russia on Wednesday of shelling a line of contact in the area and of preparing to resume an offensive there.
There was no immediate response from Moscow.
Zelenskiy said in a late night speech on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces attacked Russian positions in Ukraine along the entire frontline after Kiev announced Monday it had launched an offensive to try to retake the south. Zelenskiy said his troops were also on the offensive in the east.
In the first weeks of the six-month-old war, Russia conquered large parts of southern Ukraine near the Black Sea coast, including in the Kherson region, which lies north of the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia.
Ukraine considers retaking the region crucial to prevent Russian attempts to capture more territory further west, which could eventually cut off access to the Black Sea.
Britain, an ally of Ukraine, said Ukrainian formations in the south had pushed back the Russian front line some distance in places, using relatively thin Russian defenses. Read more . Ukraine said it had “success” in three parts of the region, but declined to give details.
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied reports of Ukraine’s progress, saying its forces had dislodged Ukrainian troops.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Reuters agencies; Written by Andrew Osborn and Matthias Williams; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, William Maclean
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.