U.N. nuclear inspectors expect to begin their work Thursday at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, assessing safety and security matters amid international concern that fighting in the area could endanger the facility.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi told reporters there has been “increased military activity, including this morning,” near the plant.
“But weighing the pros and cons and having come so far, we are not stopping,” Grossi said.
Ukraine and Russia have repeatedly accused each other of shelling the area near the power plant, the largest nuclear facility in Europe and a key source of energy for Ukraine.
That continued Thursday, with Russia saying Ukraine sent a team of troops to try to seize the plant, while Ukraine said Russian forces shelled the route the IAEA team would travel to get to the site.
The company that oversees Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, Enerhoatom, said Russian shelling led the Zaporizhzhia plant’s emergency protection system to shut down one of its reactors.
Grossi said he expects his team’s initial work to last a few days and that he hopes to establish a permanent presence.
With the nuclear plant in the midst of a war zone, world leaders have expressed fears it could be damaged and result in a radiation disaster like that at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant in 1986.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Wednesday reiterated his call for Russia to fully demilitarize the area around the plant.
“They are playing games. They are gambling with the nuclear security,” Borrell said. “We cannot play war games in the neighborhood of a site like this.”
Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder welcomed the presence of the IAEA team and called on Russia to enable them to do their work at the Zaporizhzhia plant.
Ryder also announced U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will lead a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Sept. 8 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Ryder said the meeting, the group’s fifth, would bring together defense ministers and senior military officials from 50 nations to discuss the Ukraine conflict and coordination for Ukraine aid.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Wednesday there would be an announcement in the coming days about “future security assistance” for Ukraine on top of the $13 billion already pledged by the United States.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.