What is this UN mission at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant?

At the heart of all the tensions, the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant will be visited by a group of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Their objective is to check the infrastructure of this plant which houses six of the 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine, attacked by Russia for six months. Occupied by Moscow, the plant is at risk between bombardments, the risk of a shortage of water to ensure its cooling or its disconnection from the electricity grid. 20 minutes provides an update on the IAEA’s mission.

Why are UN experts coming to the Zaporozhye power plant?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been concerned for months about the situation at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. Caught in the crossfire, the latter has been occupied since early March, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The director general of the IAEA had been asking for several months to be able to go there, warning of the “real risk of nuclear disaster”. Concern is global as Moscow and kyiv accuse each other of bombing the plant. The G7 countries said on Monday they were “deeply concerned” about the risk of a nuclear accident in Zaporozhye, calling for complete freedom of movement to be granted to international experts.

“Russia must ensure safe and unhindered access” to the IAEA team, claimed an American official, for whom the “safest” option would be a “controlled” shutdown of the reactors. Evidence of the distressing atmosphere around the plant, the town hall of Zaporozhye said since August 23 has been distributing iodine tablets to the population within a radius of 50 km around the plant, to be taken in the event of a radiation alert. .

When is the IAEA mission due to arrive?

“The day has come,” said the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday. According to Rafael Grossi, the mission must visit “later this week” nuclear facilities and will consist of at least ten people. “We must protect the security of Ukraine and the largest power plant in Europe,” he wrote on Twitter. Before moving, the IAEA had to come to an agreement with the two camps and, if kyiv demanded this visit, Moscow was reluctant. Faced with this “dangerous” situation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday urged the UN nuclear policeman to send a team as soon as possible.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally agreed to the organization of a mission passing “through Ukraine” and not through Russia, which he previously demanded, allowing the visit of UN experts. Russia now considers the inspection “necessary”, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Beyond the demands of the belligerents, this is a risky mission for the UN experts. “This mission will be the hardest in the history of the IAEA because of the combat activity carried out by Russia on the ground,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba on Monday during a trip to Stockholm. .

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Between Thursday and Friday, the plant and its six reactors of 1,000 megawatts each were “totally disconnected” from the national grid due to damage to the power lines, according to kyiv, before being reconnected and restarted. “The plant’s infrastructure has been damaged and there are risks of hydrogen leakage and spraying of radioactive substances,” Energoatom warned on Saturday. In addition, according to the operator, “ten inhabitants have been injured”, including four plant employees, in bombings over the past twenty-four hours in Energodar, a locality on which the plant depends.

Can we hope for a drop in tensions after this inspection?

The AEIA inspection will verify the facilities of the nuclear power plant. However, it will not be able to ease tensions, as kyiv has launched its major counter-offensive in the south of the country. Ukraine accuses Russian forces of stockpiling heavy weapons and ammunition and having a garrison of 500 soldiers at the nuclear site. The Kremlin, for its part, ensures that it only has personnel in charge of security and on Monday called on the international community to put “pressure” on Ukraine to reduce tension around the nuclear power plant.

After several strikes on the site which caused a temporary cut of the power plant from the electricity network last week, the Ukrainian operator Energoatom estimated on Saturday that there was a risk of “spray of radioactive substances”. In Zaporozhye itself, the emergency services are already carrying out exercises to evacuate residents and train to decontaminate radioactive dust. Nearly two tons of special decontamination solution are stored in facilities in the city.

The visit of the UN experts does not seem to reassure the inhabitants who are still scrutinizing with concern the surroundings of the plant which houses six of the 15 Ukrainian reactors. “You know, we experienced the Chernobyl accident, the threat was already very great (…) today, the threat is total, 100%”, blows Kateryna, a 68-year-old retiree, who still suffers from thyroid problems after the 1986 disaster. “That’s my prediction: six reactors instead of one,” she says, referring to the capacity of the Zaporozhye plant, compared to the single reactor damaged in the of the Chernobyl disaster, which is still on everyone’s mind.

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