Nuclear Waste Facility In Warzone Has Sustained Serious Damage, Inspectors Say

(Photo by ALEX HALADA/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The international nuclear watchdog organization reported significant damage to buildings housing nuclear fuel at the Zaporizhzhya (ZNPP) power plant in southern Ukraine Tuesday, a result of persistent shelling after Russian troops occupied the facility.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi and a team of inspectors stayed at the site to conduct a safety review amid fears that ongoing fighting between Russian troops, who occupy the facility, and Ukrainian forces would trigger a nuclear catastrophe. During the visit, heavy shelling of the facility forced the team to take cover and damaged nuclear fuel and solid radioactive nuclear waste containment facilities.

“The team closely witnessed shelling in the vicinity of the ZNPP, in particular on 3 Sept.,” the agency’s report, published Tuesday, stated. “Moreover, the team observed damage at different locations caused by reported events with some of the damage being close to the reactor buildings.”

Monitors also found that, while the plant’s safety systems retained continuity, Russian military contingents had taken control of some physical protection systems, including “guarding and access control to the site.” The plant is severely understaffed, and Russian troops have blocked operators from accessing important sections, such as the cooling pools.

Safety systems remain intact for the ZNPP’s last remaining operational reactor, of six total, according to the report.

“While the ongoing shelling has not yet triggered a nuclear emergency, it continues to represent a constant threat to nuclear safety and security with potential impact on critical safety functions that may lead to radiological consequences,” the report said.

The report said shelling should be “stopped immediately” and said that nothing short of a ceasefire would eliminate the risk of sparking a radiological disaster.

Grossi warned that the situation at the plant had become “untenable” in a statement to the U.N. National Security Council Tuesday. He outlined a plan to establish a permanent security protection zone around the ZNPP, but Russia’s permanent representative to Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, decried Grossi for not providing “concrete details” about the proposed initiative, The New York Times reported. (RELATED: ‘Unacceptable Situation’: Russia ‘Temporarily’ Blocks Nuclear Weapons Inspections)

Russia seized the plant in March amid a campaign to capture the southern region of Ukraine after capturing the Chernobyl nuclear facility in the north, according to the NYT. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for exacerbating the dire security situation around the plant, but the report avoided assigning responsibility for the situation to either country.

Shelling on Monday ignited a fire that led operators to temporarily disconnect the ZNPP’s single remaining power line from the state grid, endangering critical cooling systems and leaving the plant dependent on backup power, Reuters reported.

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