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IAEA Calls for Russia, Ukraine to Ensure Safety of Nuclear Plants


FILE - A giant protective dome built over the destroyed fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is seen April 13, 2021.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has called on the parties in the Russia-Ukraine conflict to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine's nuclear plants. The director of the IAEA expressed concern about the plants Wednesday in remarks to a U.N. environmental conference in Kenya.

In the past week, the Russian army reportedly has taken control of several nuclear sites in Ukraine, including Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear meltdown that released high amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.

On Tuesday, Ukraine's deputy environment minister, Roman Shakhmatenko, addressed the U.N. Environmental Assembly from Kyiv, speaking from what appeared to be a basement filled with people trying to escape Russian bombing. The audio was recorded from the livestream of the session.

He warned that the nuclear safety of Europe is at stake.

"We see a rise of the level of radiation in Chernobyl because their troops are moving there and there is a threat ... of Russian terrorist acts," Shakhmatenko said.

During a briefing Wednesday morning, an IAEA official confirmed there were higher radiation levels at Chernobyl just after the Russians took over the site, but said the readings have since gone down to normal, harmless levels.

The IAEA, however, says it remains worried about Ukraine's nuclear plants. In a statement, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said "any military or other action that could threaten the safety or security of Ukraine's nuclear power plants must be avoided."

Grossi gave the statement from the IAEA Vienna office, adding, "Because any incidents could have severe consequences, aggravating human suffering and causing environmental harm."

This is the second time in a week that the Ukraine conflict has intruded on the environmental conference, which was called to discuss ways of containing plastic pollution around the world. On Monday, the European Union denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russia said the government in Kyiv was to blame for the conflict.

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