ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine: UN inspectors spent a second day Friday at a Russian-held nuclear plant and at least two will remain on a permanent basis to ensure safety after the United Nations atomic agency said the site had been “violated” by the fighting in Ukraine.
A 14-strong team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Thursday as global concern grew over its safety in a war raging ever-closer to its six reactors.
Russian troops seized control of the site - Europe’s biggest atomic facility - in early March.
“It is obvious that the plant and physical integrity of the plant has been violated several times,” IAEA head Rafael Grossi said on Thursday as he and part of his team returned to Ukrainian-controlled territory after a productive first visit lasting around three hours.
The Argentinian said some of his inspectors would stay at the plant “until Sunday or Monday” to “dig deeper” into some of the observations the team had made to draw up a report.
He did not specify how many stayed behind but said the agency would retain a permanent presence there.
“We have achieved something very important today, and the important thing is the IAEA is staying here.”
Russia’s envoy to Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov said six IAEA inspectors had stayed behind and that two more would remain there “on a permanent basis”.
“Six (IAEA) employees will stay at the plant.. for a few more days and then they will return to Vienna,” he told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
“Two people will stay at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on a permanent basis.
“We welcome this because an international presence can dispel the many rumours about the state of affairs at the nuclear power plant.”
‘Stop playing with fire’
A shelling attack on the area at dawn on Thursday had forced one of the plant’s six reactors to close in what Ukraine’s Energoatom nuclear agency said was “the second time in 10 days” that Russian shelling had forced the closure of a reactor.
It said the plant’s emergency protection system kicked in, shutting reactor five, with the attack damaging a back-up power supply.
The shelling left only one of the six reactors working.
Red Cross chief Robert Mardini had on Thursday warned the consequences of hitting the plant could be “catastrophic” saying “the slightest miscalculation could trigger devastation that we will regret for decades.”
“It is high time to stop playing with fire and instead take concrete measures to protect this facility... from any military operations,” he reporters in Kyiv.
Both sides have traded repeated accusations over who was responsible for the shelling the area around Energodar, the town which lies next door to the plant on the south bank of the Dnipro River.
Ukraine has accused Russia of storing ammunition at the plant and deploying hundreds of soldiers there.
And it also suspects Moscow is intending to divert power from the plant to the nearby Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops pressed ahead with a counter-offensive in the nearby region of Kherson to retake areas seized by Russia at the start of the attacks.
In its morning update, the presidency said explosions could be heard across Kherson throughout the night and that “heavy fighting” was taking place in two areas just upriver from Kherson city, the regional capital.
In the eastern Donetsk region, four people were killed and 10 wounded in various shelling incidents, while another died when a village was hit near Kharkhiv, Ukraine’s second city in the country’s north east.
Despite the conflict, now in its seventh month, children started a new school year on September 1, although in several regions that meant being back online as all school attendance was cancelled due to the ongoing fighting.
“I’m happy to be back at school but I would be even happier if there was no war because I miss my teacher and my friends,” nine-year-old Antonina Sidorenko, told AFP as she started her online lessons with the distant crackle of gunfire in the background.