UKRAINE: In the wake of the Ukraine-Russian conflict raging mainly around the highly volatile site of Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has welcomed calls by the UN nuclear agency to demilitarise the zone.
The plant has been occupied by Russia since the beginning of Putin’s “special military operation” on February 24 and it has come under repeated shelling, with both sides trading blame for the attacks.
Out of fear of a catastrophic radiation leak, the UN has urged both sides to end fighting near the plant. Shelling could cause an unlimited release of fatal radioactive chemicals resulting in a horrific Chornobyl-like disaster, it said.
In a report published on Tuesday, following the high-profile visit, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reported that the presence of Russian military equipment at the site could undermine its security.
Shelling continued to pound nearby towns and the possible routes to the plant site while a 14-strong IAEA team, from the UN, visited the site last week to assess the nature of damage at the nuclear plant. Heading the UN team, was IAEA director general Rafael Grossi, who warned at the time, of the very real risk of a potential nuclear disaster. Although most of the team exited the plant site after two days, it said two of its officials would remain there permanently.
Zelensky said he would support the safety zone if it aimed to demilitarise the territory of the nuclear plant. He also said that the report noted the presence of Russian military hardware on the plant as threatening and referred to pressure on employees, alongside “clear references to the Russian military occupation”.
The plant lies on the southern bank of the River Dnieper, across the water from Ukrainian-held towns and military positions.
On Tuesday, Russia accused Kyiv of shelling the plant site three times in the last 24 hours. On the contrary, Ukraine has accused Russia of using the volatile nuclear plant as a military base for shelling operations, although Russia has clarified that it simply guarding the site.
The UN nuclear report also highlighted the “extremely stressful conditions” facing the 907 Ukrainian personnel working at the site under Russian military control.
However, the IAEA is careful not to put the blame entirely on either side.
The IAEA detailed that while continued shelling at the plant had not yet triggered a fatal nuclear emergency, it did present a constant threat to the safety and some sort of radiation leak that “may lead to radiological consequences with great safety significance”.
There was an urgent international concern for the security of the plant and the need for “interim measures” to curb any possibilities of a nuclear accident caused by military action, it added.
The report also said that all relevant parties would have to reconcile on a common front to secure the plant and the rest of Europe, and agree to a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” being set up to avoid further damage.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting after the publication of the IAEA’s report to discuss the situation in Zaporizhzhia.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “as a first step, Russian and Ukrainian forces must commit not to engage in any military activity towards the plant site or from the plant site”.
Russia and Ukraine have now been engaged in a deadly military conflict for over six months, in what Russia calls a “special military operation” aimed at protecting Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine. The conflict has escalated to a frightening degree as millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes, and thousands of soldiers died on the battlefronts with immeasurable damage to property and buildings.
While Ukraine’s major cities lie shadowed by soot and rubble, the recent shelling around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has struck an international vein of fear and alarm. Both countries have been urged to cease fire at the plant and focus on efforts of demilitarization to prevent a threat to all of Europe.
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