(Enerhodar) A minimal compromise in the face of growing military risk: the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Ukraine’s Zaporizhia nuclear power plant on Wednesday in search of a solution acceptable to Kyiv and Moscow in order to to secure the site.
The idea of a demilitarized zone around this site in south-eastern Ukraine occupied since March by the Russians seems to have died after months of fruitless exchanges. Rafael Grossi therefore now wants to work on “principles” capable of minimizing the risk of nuclear “catastrophe”.
“I try to prepare and propose realistic measures that will be approved by all parties,” he told reporters during the visit, which AFP was able to participate in as part of a press trip. organized by the Russian authorities.
“The idea is to agree on certain principles, certain commitments, including not attacking the plant,” Grossi then told AFP, once again begging Moscow not to store military equipment there. especially weapons.
“Military activity is on the rise throughout this region” including a “significant increase in the number of soldiers”, he had previously regretted.
For this second visit, after that of September 2022, Mr. Grossi arrived at the plant in an armored Russian army vehicle, flanked by soldiers in combat gear, according to an AFP journalist. IAEA employees were also present, including three inspectors responsible for relieving colleagues working on the site.
Even before his visit, the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough had been dismissed by an adviser to the management of the Russian operator Rosenergoatom.
“We are far from having the illusion that Grossi’s visit could radically change things,” Renat Kartchaa told Tass news agency.
Ukraine believes that only a Russian withdrawal from the Zaporizhia power plant would guarantee nuclear security. As for Russia, which refuses any departure from a territory whose annexation it claims, it accuses Kyiv of wanting to take over this site by force, in defiance of the risk incurred.
On March 22, Mr. Grossi warned that the plant was in a “precarious state” because, according to the IAEA, the “last emergency power line”, damaged on March 1, remains “disconnected and under repair”. However, as a last resort, it makes it possible to ensure nuclear safety and security, in particular by cooling the reactors.
On March 9, the gigantic plant was cut off from the Ukrainian electricity grid for 11 hours after a Russian strike. Emergency diesel generators had been switched on to provide minimal power to the safety systems.
“We’re playing with fire,” warned Mr. Grossi.
Electricity is essential to run the pumps that circulate water to cool the fuel and avoid an accident like the one in Fukushima, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.
Rafael Grossi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had together visited a hydroelectric station responsible for supplying the nuclear power plant on Monday.
Russia claims the annexation of the Zaporizhia region, where the plant is located and occupies part of it. She has been accusing Ukraine for several days of increasing strikes and attacks there.
On Wednesday, Russian authorities reported shelling in Melitopol, the capital of the occupied region. According to them, a locomotive depot was hit, but there were no casualties. They also reported power cuts.
These strikes were reportedly carried out using Himars, an American high-precision mobile rocket launcher system, this city being located more than 65 kilometers from the front.
For several weeks, conjectures have been rife as to a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the direction of Melitopol, because its capture would cut the land corridor conquered by Russia to connect its territory to Crimea, a peninsula annexed in 2014.
To be able to inflict further defeats on Russia, however, Ukraine requires ammunition longer range than the 80 km it has hitherto had for the Himars to destroy Russian supply routes.
The United States has promised ammunition that can hit a target 150 km away and Moscow says it has already been delivered. Kyiv has not confirmed this and claims to need a lot more Western armaments.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov judges in this regard that Americans and Europeans are “de facto fighting” alongside Kyiv.