Zelenskyy warns of ‘radiation catastrophe’ ahead of IAEA report

Zaporizhzhia’s last working reactor shut down after fire damaged power lines amid continued concerns over situation at Russian-held facility.

Two men work at a control panel at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine have been accusing each other of shelling the plant [File: IAEA)/Handout via Reuters]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned of a near “radiation catastrophe” as a fire forced the shutdown of the last working reactor at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, hours before the UN’s atomic watchdog was due to brief the Security Council on its assessment of the situation at the site.

Ukraine and Russia have each accused the other of risking disaster by shelling near the plant, which was seized by Russian troops soon after they began their invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“Power unit (reactor) No. 6 was unloaded and disconnected from the grid” because of a fire that was “triggered because of shelling” that disrupted power lines, state-run company Energoatom said in a statement on Monday.

The reactor was the last of Zaporizhzhia’s six reactors still in operation, after shelling disconnected reactor number 5 on Saturday, according to a statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

INTERACTIVE - Ukraine’s nuclear electricity production
(Al Jazeera)

The UN nuclear agency said Ukraine had said a backup power line was damaged in the fire, but the connection would be restored once the flames had been extinguished. While the plant is occupied by Russia, Ukrainian civilians remain responsible for the operations of the facility, the biggest in Europe.

“A secure off-site power supply from the grid and back-up power supply systems are essential for ensuring nuclear safety,” the IAEA added.

Speaking in his regular video address on Monday night, Zelenskyy said the shelling showed Russia did “not care what the IAEA will say”.

“Again – already for the second time – because of Russian provocation, the Zaporizhzhia station was placed one step away from a radiation catastrophe,” he said.

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert on the roof of a building outside the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to release on Tuesday the findings of its visit to Zaporizhzhia [D Candano Laris/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) via Reuters]

A 14-strong team from the IAEA visited Zaporizhzhia last week, with the agency’s chief Rafael Grossi saying the site had been damaged in fighting.

Grossi is due to release a report on the mission’s findings later on Tuesday and will brief the United Nations Security Council at an open meeting at 19:00 GMT. The meeting was called by Russia in light of what it said were attempts by Ukraine to “derail” the IAEA’s visit to the Zaporizhzhia.

Zelenskyy said he hoped the watchdog’s findings would be “objective”.

Two IAEA experts are expected to remain at the power plant “on a permanent basis”, Energoatom said in a statement on Monday.

Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, when a reactor at the northern Chornobyl plant exploded.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies