As Russia targets Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog stresses the need to protect Russia’s occupied Zaporizhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, to prevent a nuclear disaster Is.
“Unless we protect this plant, the potential for a nuclear catastrophe remains,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview with CBS News that aired Sunday.
Russia’s aggression has threatened Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities, which rely on outside power to cool their reactors. In Zaporizhzhya, those power lines have been repeatedly damaged in the fighting, forcing plant operators to occasionally turn to diesel generators to run the cooling system. Mr Grossi said resorting to diesel generators was an unsustainable practice, given how often external power is lost.
“You don’t want the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, one of the largest in the world, to be cooled – basically an emergency system dependent on fuel,” he said. “Because when your generators run out of whatever you put in them to work, what happens? Then you have a meltdown. Then you have a major radiological nuclear emergency or accident, and We are trying to stop it.
In October, Mr. Grossi spoke with both President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, hoping the two sides would agree to establish a demilitarized zone around Zaporizhzhya. He has been calling for similar measures since leading a team of inspectors to the facility in August. No settlement has been reached.
Last week, in one of the largest and most widespread attacks since the start of the war in February, Russia fired more than 100 missiles at Ukraine in one day, most of which were shot down by the Ukrainian military. The rest affected major energy infrastructure, plunging nearly a quarter of the country into darkness. Ukraine has warned that Russia will not back down from its attacks on infrastructure, making it harder for Ukrainians to stay warm as winter approaches.
Before the war, nuclear plants provided a large part of Ukraine’s power. Last month Russia expanded its attacks on Ukrainian nuclear facilities, targeting the Khmelnitsky plant in western Ukraine and forcing it to switch to diesel generators for several hours. A second nuclear power plant in the nearby province of Rivne was forced to reduce the energy produced after power lines were damaged.
At the Zaporizhzhya power plant, reactors have been shut down since September as a safety measure. While a direct military attack on one of the reactor cores could still cause an accident, the risk is greatly reduced if the plant is not operating.
When a dozen shells exploded near the Zaporizhzhya plant on Sunday, Russian and Ukrainian nuclear energy officials blamed each other’s military forces for the attack.
Mr Grossi inspected the Zaporizhzhia plant in August and noticed large holes in the roof of the storage facility for nuclear fuel. The electrical switchyard at the plant had also been uncovered, he said, suggesting that Russia was trying to cut off access to the plant’s electricity. The factory workers are also taken hostage by the Russian soldiers.
Mr Grossi said he hoped both sides would stop the attacks that threaten the plant.
“The demands of plant safety are very important,” Mr. Grossi said. “You don’t open a nuclear power plant. You don’t storm a nuclear power plant.