The status of the Ukraine-based Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has gotten "completely out of control" since Russia seized the facility in March, according to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi.
On Tuesday, Grossi sounded a warning about the Russians' plant takeover, saying, "Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated. You have a catalog of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility."
The Zaporizhzhia facility stands as the largest operational nuclear power plant in Europe, and among Grossi's chief concerns involves the "paradoxical situation" of Russia controlling the plant — but the original Ukrainian crew handling the day-to-day operations.
Grossi says the competing groups have not been cooperating well.
Grossi's IAEA team has attempted to conduct regular communications with the groups operating the Zaporizhzhia facility. However, his agency has only had "faulty" or "patchy" talks with the Ukrainian staff, which means there are no guarantees of those nuclear workers getting all the supplies they may need.
Located in Ukraine's southeastern city of Enerhodar, the Zaporizhzhia plant isn't tucked away in some remote area. Rather, exchanges of artillery fire between the Russian and Ukrainian armies have become commonplace in the area.
United States and Ukraine officials have previously claimed that Russian officials are maximizing the locale of the Zaporizhzhia plant, in terms of using it as a buffer against military combat.
"There are credible reports, including in the media [Monday], that Russia is using this plant as the equivalent of a human shield, but a nuclear shield in the sense that it's firing on Ukrainians from around the plant, and of course, the Ukrainians cannot and will not fire back lest there be a terrible accident involving a nuclear plant," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week.
On the flip side, the Russians believe the Ukrainians are purposely using American-supplied weapons around the plant.
Grossi says the contentious relationship between Russia and Ukraine have made an IAEA site visit difficult to arrange.
"I have been insisting from Day 1 that we have to be able to go there to perform this safety and security evaluation, to do the repairs and to assist as we already did in Chernobyl," said Grossi.
He added, "the IAEA needs to go to Zaporizhzhia, as it did to Chernobyl, to ascertain the facts of what is actually happening there, to carry out repairs and inspections, to prevent a nuclear accident from happening."
Grossi's last remark references the Chernobyl disaster of April 1986: At the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the Soviet Union city of Pripyat, a meltdown occurred at the No. 4 reactor.
According to various reports, the Chernobyl disaster is one of only two nuclear energy accidents to grade at a maximum "7" rating on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES).
"The IAEA, by its presence, will be a deterrent to any act of violence against this nuclear power plant," says Grossi. "So, I'm pleading as an international civil servant, as the head of an international organization, I'm pleading to both sides to let this mission proceed."
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