International inspectors should be given access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over the shelling of the facility in recent days, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
Any attack on a nuclear plant "is a suicidal thing," Guterres told a news conference in Japan.
More broadly, Guterres said he is “very worried that we might have a prolonged war” in Ukraine that could have “a very negative impact in the global economy and in the living conditions especially of the most vulnerable people.”
Guterres said the United Nations has been working with Turkey on the possible start of peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine but that the effort is stymied by the complexity of the conflict.
“The difficult thing in relation to a cease-fire comes from a simple fact: Ukraine cannot accept a situation in which its territory is taken by another country,” Guterres said, “and the Russian Federation does not seem ready to accept that the areas that Russian forces have taken will not be annexed by the Russian Federation or give way to new independent states.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, said employees at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex are "working under the barrels of Russian guns."
Speaking in Vienna, Tsymbaliuk appealed for the nuclear facility to be declared a demilitarized zone to prevent a Chernobyl-style catastrophe. He contended that Russian forces, with the shelling of the nuclear facility, are trying to cause blackouts in southern Ukraine, where intense fighting is ongoing.
In his daily video address Monday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for new Western sanctions on Russia's nuclear industry "for creating the threat of a nuclear disaster."
Meanwhile, Russia claimed that Ukrainian forces hit the site with a multiple rocket launcher, damaging administrative buildings and a storage area. The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Kyiv of attempting to "take Europe hostage" by shelling the plant.
Tsymbaliuk said, "If something happens, so there will be huge consequences not only for Ukraine, probably all Ukraine will be contaminated, but for Europe as well."
Tsymbaliuk said Kyiv would use all the diplomatic channels it can to allow an international mission to the plant.
Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said Moscow is ready to facilitate a visit of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Zaporizhzhia plant.
In the most recent attack on the nuclear facility Saturday night, Ukraine's state nuclear power firm said Russian forces damaged three radiation sensors and wounded a worker with shrapnel.
The plant, in Russian-controlled territory, was also attacked Friday. Moscow has blamed Ukrainian forces for the strikes.
Russia captured the Zaporizhzhia plant in early March in the opening stages of its invasion of Ukraine, but the facility is still run by Ukrainian technicians.
The Ukrainian nuclear company Energoatom said Russian rocket attacks Saturday hit a storage facility, where 174 containers with spent nuclear fuel were kept in the open.
"Consequently, timely detection and response in the event of a deterioration in the radiation situation or leakage of radiation from containers of spent nuclear fuel are not yet possible," it said.
The Russian-installed administration of occupied Enerhodar, where the plant's employees live, said Ukraine had struck using a 220-mm Uragan multiple rocket launcher system.
"The administrative buildings and the adjacent territory of the storage facility were damaged," it said.
After the first attack Friday, the head of the IAEA said the shelling showed the risk of a nuclear disaster. Those shells hit a high-voltage power line, prompting the plant's operators to disconnect a reactor — despite no radioactive leak being detected.
Progress on grains
Meanwhile, a ship carrying grains from Ukraine has arrived in Turkey, the first vessel to reach its destination under a deal to unblock grain supplies.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, "If Russia sticks to its obligations, the 'grain corridor' will keep maintaining global food security."
Two more ships are set to sail from Ukrainian ports Tuesday through the maritime humanitarian corridor established under the grain deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
In total, 12 ships have now been authorized to sail under the agreement.
Some material in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.