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Ukraine bars nuclear regulator from visiting Russian-occupied power plant

Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator, on Monday denounced a request by the global nuclear watchdog to visit the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The Ukrainian operator accused Rafael Mariano Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, of “lying” and warned that the visit was a way of legitimizing Russia’s occupation of Europe’s largest nuclear plant — which is operated by Ukrainian staff but has been under the control of Russian troops since March.

“The Ukrainian side did not invite Grossi to visit ZNPP [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant] and had previously denied him such a visit, emphasizing that a visit to the power plant will be possible only when our country regains control over it,” Energoatom said in a Telegram post.

Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said in March that the Russian state-owned nuclear operator had no intention of taking operational control of Zaporizhzhia.

Grossi said Monday that he was “actively working” on sending an expert mission to the plant “sooner or later but better sooner.” Grossi has been working on setting up such a trip for months, but has so far been unsuccessful in getting Ukraine and Russia to agree on the details.

Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, said last month that the IAEA was in touch with both Russian and Ukrainian authorities about a possible visit, Russian state-controlled press agency Interfax reported.

He added on Monday that “the organization of such a trip requires settling a whole set of logistical and technical issues, such as from what direction to enter it, from which territory, through what checkpoints, on what transport, and so on. None of these details have yet been agreed upon.”

The IAEA has reported that Russian nuclear experts are at Zaporizhzhia, but their function “is not entirely clear,” Grossi said last month. He added that the Russian presence at a Ukrainian power plant “goes against every safety principle that we have” and creates the “potential for disagreement, for friction, for contradictory instruction.”

Grossi also said Monday that Ukraine told his agency it has “lost control over” nuclear material at Zaporizhzhia and that data communication on nuclear safeguards with the plant has broken down. Nuclear safeguards mechanisms are essential to ensure that nuclear facilities are not misused and nuclear material not diverted from peaceful uses.

“The urgent need for us to be there is clear to all,” he said. “Logistics and other such considerations must not prevent it. We must find a solution to the hurdles preventing progress at Zaporizhzhia NPP.”

Energoatom said that any problem in data transmission to the IAEA was “caused by the actions of the Russian occupiers,” and accused the Russians of engineering the crisis to get Grossi to visit the power plant.

Grossi has visited the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of Kyiv. It was under Russian control for several weeks, during which time there was worry that a cutoff of electricity to the site could create a danger of radioactive substances being released.

The IAEA declined to comment on Energoatom’s allegations.

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