UN inspectors arrived at a Russian nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Thursday despite an early bombardment, with the ICRC warning that the consequences of a strike on the facility could be “catastrophic”.
After crossing the frontline into Russian-held territory, the 14-person International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team reached the facility around 3:00 p.m., the agency said on Twitter.
“The IAEA Support and Assistance Mission in #Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ) led by Director General Rafael Grossi has just arrived at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant to conduct much-needed nuclear safety and security and safeguards activities “, did he declare.
Dressed in bulletproof vests and bright blue helmets, they had vowed to push forward to reach Europe’s largest nuclear facility despite early morning bombings in the region that forced the closure of one of its six reactors.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear agency, said it was “the second time in 10 days” that Russian bombing had forced a reactor shutdown.
He said the plant’s emergency protection system kicked in shortly before 0500 (0200 GMT), shutting down reactor five, “due to another (Russian) mortar bombardment” and that an emergency power supply “had been damaged” in the attack.
The area around the plant, which sits on the southern banks of the Dnipro River, has come under repeated shelling, with both sides blaming the other, sparking global concern over the risk of an accident.
“Stop playing with fire”
“It is high time to stop playing with fire and to take concrete measures to protect this installation (…) from any military operation,” ICRC chief Robert Mardini told reporters in Kyiv.
“The slightest miscalculation could unleash devastation we will regret for decades.”
After Russian forces seized the plant on March 4, Energoatom shut down two reactors, followed by a third after the August 5 bombing. With a fourth under repair, Thursday’s incident leaves only one of the six reactors in working order.
Mardini said it was “encouraging” that the IAEA team went to inspect the plant as the stakes were “huge”.
“When dangerous sites become battlefields, the consequences for millions of people and the environment can be catastrophic and last for many years,” he said.
Leaving Zaporizhzhia, the IAEA chief said his team would travel to areas where “the risks are significant”, but decided to go ahead anyway.
“We have to continue with this. We have a very important mission to accomplish.”
Bombings, saboteurs and back to school
The town of Energodar, located next to the plant, came under sustained attack at dawn, with Russian troops firing “mortars and using automatic weapons and rockets”, its mayor Dmytro Orlov said. on Telegram.
But Moscow accused Kyiv of smuggling up to 60 military ‘saboteurs’, saying they reached the area near the factory at dawn and that Russian troops took ‘measures to annihilate the ‘enemy”.
Grossi said the IAEA would seek to establish a “permanent presence” at the facility “to prevent a nuclear accident and preserve Europe’s largest nuclear power plant”.
Ukraine has accused Russia of deploying hundreds of troops and stockpiling ammunition at the factory.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops continued a counter-offensive in the neighboring Kherson region to retake areas seized by Russia at the start of the invasion.
In its morning update, the presidency said “strong explosions have continued over the past 24 hours” across Kherson, while five people were killed and 12 others injured in the eastern Donetsk region.
Despite the conflict, now in its seventh month, September 1 marked the start of a new school year for children across Ukraine.
Figures from the Ukrainian Ministry of Education show that 2,199 educational institutions were damaged in the fighting, with 225 completely destroyed.
Just over half of the 23,000 establishments surveyed by the ministry have bomb shelters, meaning they can physically reopen, while those without will only offer online learning .
But in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, all learning will be done online due to constant Russian bombardment, the mayor said last month, with a British charity accusing Thursday that dozens of his schools had been ” targeted”.
A Center for Information Resilience investigation found that 41 institutions had been “partially or completely destroyed”, with researchers finding that the bombardment “was targeted, rather than a byproduct of indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure”.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has denounced as “ridiculous” the decision by EU foreign ministers to suspend a 2007 visa facilitation deal with Russia over the Ukraine conflict.
Ministers approved the measure on Wednesday but did not close its borders to all Russians, as demanded by Ukraine.