Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Tuesday with top United Nations nuclear inspectors in Kyiv ahead of their visit to inspect the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that is operated by Ukrainian engineers. Both Russia and Ukraine allege the other has continued to shell territory near the facility, with world leaders expressing fears that a nuclear disaster is possible.
"This is probably one of the top priority questions regarding safety of Ukraine and the world today," Zelenskyy said, calling for the "immediate demilitarization of the plant" and its transfer to "full Ukrainian control."
According to The New York Times, the plant showed signs of being hit by artillery fire and is blanketed in smoke from nearby wildfires. The Times, quoting an anonymous source, said the inspection could come as early as Wednesday.
The IAEA inspection of the plant is to last a day, according to Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian-installed local administration, told Interfax.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi tweeted that he is leading the team that will be at the power plant “later this week.”
“We must protect the safety and security of Ukraine’s and Europe’s biggest nuclear facility,” Grossi said.
The IAEA said the mission will focus on assessing physical damage at the plant, determining the functionality of safety and security systems, evaluating staff conditions and performing “urgent safeguards activities.”
Russia has controlled the plant site since early in its six-month invasion, but the plant is being operated by Ukrainian engineers.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters Monday in Stockholm that the international community should be united in demanding Russia’s withdrawal from the nuclear plant, saying that is the only way to ensure security at the site.
“We expect from the mission a clear statement of facts of violation of nuclear safety protocols. We know that Russia is putting not only Ukraine but also the entire world at threat, at risk, of [a] nuclear accident,” Kuleba said.
Hours later, the Kremlin called on the international community to pressure Ukraine to reduce tensions at the plant, saying it was Ukraine that is putting Europe at risk with shelling.
The engineer, whose identity is being withheld for fear of retaliation by the occupying authorities, supports Ukrainian government claims that Russia itself is responsible for the explosions.
Despite numerous attacks in the area that Russia and Ukraine have blamed on each other, Grossi said Ukraine has told the agency that “all safety systems remained operational and there had been no increase in radiation levels.”
The U.S. State Department accused Russia of blocking a consensus document on a nuclear nonproliferation treaty because the agreement noted the risk posed by fighting near the Zaporizhzhia plant.
“For the Russian Federation to not accept such language in the face of overwhelming international consensus underscores the need for the United States and others to continue urging Russia to end its military activity near ZNPP and return control of the plant to Ukraine,” the statement said.
Moscow said it supports the work of the IAEA but has refused to withdraw its soldiers from the complex to create a demilitarized zone.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.