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Atomic energy chief: Ukraine’s nuclear safety situation ‘far from being resolved’

The risk of a nuclear accident in Ukraine is still a source of concern, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday, calling the situation “far from being resolved.”

Speaking at European Parliament hearing, IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi said the agency’s main “preoccupation” remains Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s largest functioning nuclear power plant, which has been under Russian military control since early March.

“We have been living in a very fragile situation,” he said, explaining that the plant is currently run by Ukrainian state nuclear operator Energoatom but occupied by Russian troops.

Grossi added that Russian nuclear experts are also on site, but said their function “is not entirely clear.” Their presence “goes against every safety principle that we have” and creates the “potential for disagreement, for friction, for contradictory instruction,” he warned.

Russian military control of Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine is also raising questions about the status of nuclear material at the site.

Because IAEA experts currently don’t have access to the plant, they can’t perform regular nuclear safeguard activities, including physical inventories and monitoring, according to Grossi.

“Without that we cannot ensure to the international community where the nuclear material is or what’s happening with it,” he said.

He added that IAEA had no evidence that Ukraine had started a nuclear weapons program before the war — contrary to Russian allegations.

“But when I’m confronted with a situation … where we have more than 30,000 kilograms of enriched uranium and a similar amount of plutonium and I cannot go and inspect … the situation with this nuclear material, it is a very real danger and something that should be considered in all its seriousness,” he said.

The IAEA chief said he plans to travel to Zaporizhzhia but is running into issues of logistics — and politics.

“The issue is that both [Russia and Ukraine] agreed that I come but that I come under their respective flags … so it is a bit of a schizophrenic situation,” he said. “The format, the political modalities of the visit are even more important than the technical mission that I need to perform,” he added.

Talks are ongoing with both sides, according to Grossi. “We’re not at a dead end.”

He added that a group of IAEA experts will make a second trip to the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant “very soon” to carry out additional repairs, but that the situation “appears to have been stabilized.”

Ukraine’s nuclear utility Energoatom has issued multiple warnings — some alarmist — about potential safety issues after the Chernobyl site came under the control of Russian troops, which have since left. In March, it said a power cut meant cooling systems would be shut off, increasing the risk of radioactive substances being released.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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