IAEA ‘deeply concerned’ by Russia’s actions since takeover of Ukraine nuclear plant

Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces have cut off mobile networks and internet at Zaporizhzhia; Grossi says regular communications crucial for facility’s safety and security

A power-generating unit at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the city of Enerhodar, in southern Ukraine, on June 12, 2008. (AP Photo/Olexander Prokopenko, File)
A power-generating unit at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the city of Enerhodar, in southern Ukraine, on June 12, 2008. (AP Photo/Olexander Prokopenko, File)

VIENNA, Austria — The UN nuclear watchdog on Sunday expressed “deep concern” over reports that communication from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant seized by Russia in Ukraine has been disrupted.

Invading Russian forces attacked and seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine on Friday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement that Ukraine informed it that the plant management is now under orders from the commander of the Russian forces.

Ukraine has also reported that the Russian forces have switched off some mobile networks and the internet, and that telephone lines, emails and fax lines were not functioning anymore.

Mobile phone communication was still possible, though with poor quality, the IAEA said.

“I’m extremely concerned about these developments that were reported to me today,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at a press conference about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

“In order to be able to operate the plant safely and securely, management and staff must be allowed to carry out their vital duties in stable conditions without undue external interference or pressure,” he added.

He expressed “deep concern” over “the deteriorating situation regarding vital communications between the regulator and the Zaporizhzhia NPP (nuclear power plant)”.

“Reliable communications between the regulator and the operator are a critical part of overall nuclear safety and security,” he said.

On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin assured French President Emmanuel Macron of the “physical and nuclear safety” of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, according to the Kremlin.

The IAEA said Ukraine’s nuclear regulator also reported that communicating with personnel at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was taken by Russian forces on February 24, was only possible via email, at the moment.

The giant protective dome built over the sarcophagus covering the destroyed fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, April 13, 2021. (Sergei Supinsky / AFP)

Staff there are also reportedly unable to rotate — leading to Grossi stressing “the importance of operating staff being able to rest to carry out their important jobs safely and securely.”

Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant was encased in a giant sarcophagus following an explosion in 1986 — the worst nuclear accident in history.

Grossi offered Friday to travel to Chernobyl to negotiate with Kyiv and Moscow and ensure the security of Ukraine’s nuclear sites.

The offer came hours after Russian forces seized control of Zaporizhzhia after a battle with Ukrainian troops that caused a fire and fears of an accident.

Ukraine has four active nuclear power plants, providing about half the country’s electricity, as well as stores of nuclear waste such as the one at Chernobyl.

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