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Saturday, February 17, 2024

IAEA chief says trying for deal on Russia-held nuclear plant

During a rare visit to the facility, Europe's largest, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said he was working to find a compromise that would suit both Moscow and Kyiv.

The chief of the UN atomic watchdog said on Wednesday he was working on a compromise security plan for the Moscow-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and warned of increased military activity around it.

There are persistent fears over the safety of the plant in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia, where there has been frequent shelling since Russian troops invaded last year.

During a rare visit to the facility, Europe’s largest, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said he was working to find a compromise that would suit both Moscow and Kyiv.

Read more: IAEA in talks with Iran after reported nuclear step-up

“I am trying to prepare and propose realistic measures that will be approved by all parties,” Grossi told reporters during a press tour organised by Moscow at the plant, which is controlled by Russian forces.

“We must avoid catastrophe. I am an optimist and I believe that this is possible,” said Grossi, who arrived at the plant in a Russian armoured vehicle, surrounded by soldiers in full combat gear.

But he also warned of increasing military activity around the nuclear plant and expressed hope that Russia and Ukraine would agree on safety principles.

He added that the visit to the plant was “extremely useful.”

“The idea is to agree on certain principles, certain commitments, including not to attack the plant,” he separately told AFP.

Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of shelling the plant, increasing fears of a disaster. Russian soldiers stationed at the plant told AFP during Grossi’s visit Wednesday that they have been preparing for a possible attack from Kyiv.

Their main task is “to prevent an armed takeover” of the site by Ukrainian “saboteurs”, one soldier told reporters.

Ukraine denies any such plans.

The United Nations has called for a demilitarised zone around the site.

Read more: Israeli premier slams IAEA chief for saying airstrikes on nuclear facilities ‘outlawed’

– ‘Anything can happen’ –

Grossi said his team had previously focused on the possibility of establishing a security zone around the plant.

“Now the concept is evolving,” he said, with his team focusing on the protection of the plant itself rather than “on territorial aspects which pose certain problems.”

During the visit Grossi took a guided tour through the huge facility, which had been fortified. He was followed by around 30 journalists. The Moscow-installed director of the plant, Yury Chernichuk, showed Grossi damage the plant sustained during the hostilities.

The Ukrainian nuclear power operator Energoatom earlier in the day distributed footage of a convoy of civilian and military vehicles marked with the letter Z, a symbol emblazoned on Russian military hardware in Ukraine.

This was Grossi’s second visit to Zaporizhzhia since Russia invaded Ukraine last February.

Read more: Iran has uranium particles enriched to nearly bomb grade: IAEA

The agency has had a team of experts inside the plant since September 2022, but Grossi has said the situation “is still precarious”.

Earlier this week, Grossi met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said it was not possible to restore safety at the plant with Russia in control.

Renat Karchaa, an advisor to Russia’s nuclear power operator Rosenergoatom said Wednesday ahead of the visit that it was unlikely to bring about major breakthroughs.

“We are far from having any illusions that Grossi’s visit will dramatically change anything. For us, this is an ordinary working event,” he was cited as saying by Russian news agencies.