G7 urges Russia to return control of nuclear plant to Ukraine

The Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest, has been shelled several times raising fears of a nuclear incident.

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant near Enerhodar
A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) economic powers have called on Moscow to immediately return Ukraine’s embattled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to full Ukrainian control amid growing fears of a potential disaster.

“Ukrainian personnel responsible for the operation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant must be able to carry out their duties without threats or pressure,” the statement issued on Wednesday said. “It is Russia’s continued domination of the nuclear power plant that endangers the region.”

The plant, which is near the southern city of Enerhodar and is Europe’s biggest, has been shelled several times and was partially damaged last weekend. However, the critical infrastructure is said to remain intact.

Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the attacks. The accusations cannot be independently verified.

INTERACTIVE - Nuclear power in Ukraine August 2022
[Al Jazeera]

On Russia’s initiative, the United Nations Security Council is to address the shelling on Thursday in New York. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, is set to brief the council.

The G7 foreign ministers warned that Russia’s actions significantly increase the risk of a nuclear incident and put the people of Ukraine, neighbouring states and the world at risk.

They stressed “the importance of allowing IAEA experts to be sent to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to address nuclear safety and security concerns and measures”.

Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Kyiv, said the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom told the network that Russia wanted to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power system.

“It [Russia] wants to take all the power and reconnect it to a Crimea nuclear facility so that the energy and all of the connections would be fully in Russian territory,” Hendren said, paraphrasing Energoatom President Petro Kotin.

‘Terrorist nation’

Separately on Wednesday, Kyiv accused Russia of exploiting its position at the nuclear power plant to target the nearby town Marhanets in a rocket attack that killed at least 13 people and left many others seriously wounded.

There was no immediate comment from Russia on the Ukrainian allegations of a rocket attack on Marhanets.

Moscow says it does not deliberately target civilians in what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine aimed at preemptively safeguarding its own security.

Russian military convoy stands on the road toward the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia region, in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, Sunday, May 1, 2022. (AP Photo)
A Russian military convoy stands on the road near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station [File: AP Photo]

Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, accused Russia of launching attacks on Ukrainian towns with impunity from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the knowledge that it was risky for Ukraine to fight back.

“Eighty reactive rockets fired at residential buildings,” Yermak wrote on the Telegram messaging service, referring to the attack on Marhanets.

“The terrorist nation is continuing to fight against civilians. The cowardly Russians can’t do anything more so they strike towns ignobly hiding at the Zaporizhzhia atomic power station”, he wrote.

Ukraine, which accuses Moscow of waging an unprovoked imperial-style war of aggression, says around 500 Russian troops with heavy vehicles and weapons are stationed at the plant, where Ukrainian technicians continue to work.

Russia says its forces are behaving responsibly and doing everything they can to ensure the facility’s safety. Moscow has accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the plant. Kyiv denies the allegation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies