U.N. watchdog to base staff at endangered Ukraine nuke plants

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will establish a permanent presence at all of Ukraine’s operating nuclear power plants as well as at Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear accident, amid continuing concerns that the war with Russia’s invading forces has put the sensitive sites at risk.

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency already has staff at the nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia, the largest in Europe, which is being operated by Ukrainian workers under Russian military control as fighting rages nearby. Under an agreement announced Tuesday between IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the Khmelnytskyi, Rivne and South Ukraine plants also will have permanent IAEA staffing.

The move is part of a stepped-up effort to help prevent a nuclear accident during the current armed conflict, U.N. officials said.

“Our mission at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has shown the vital importance of the IAEA being there to monitor the situation and give technical advice,” Mr. Grossi said after the agreement was signed in Paris. “Thanks to this presence, the IAEA is providing the world with impartial, technical, and factual information about developments on the ground.”

The agency has voiced concerns for months about the lack of clarity at the Zaporizhzhia plant, while Ukrainian and Russian military officials have blamed each other for the repeated shelling near the facility.

The IAEA team at the ZNPP said the plant lost its connection to the backup power line to the electricity grid. The ZNPP continues to receive the electricity it needs for essential safety and security functions from the main external power line, the UN said.

“This is especially important at a time when Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the war in the middle of winter,” Mr. Grossi said.

But military analysts quoted in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta Wednesday said hopes to create a demilitarized zone around the embattled nuclear plant would not be welcomed by the Kremlin, saying that Ukrainian forces would move in quickly if Russia troops abandoned the site.

“An end to the effective protection of the plant would spell an end to the effective protection of the [nearby city of Energodar],” Valdai Discussion Club Program Director Oleg Barabanov told the paper. “It would change the status quo on the line of contact, raising the risk of landing operations by the armed forces of Ukraine.”

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