Shelling around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe's largest, has sparked fears of a nuclear disaster

Ukraine supports UN peacekeeping force at occupied nuclear power plant

Shelling around the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe – Copyright AFP Arif ALI

Dmitry GORSHKOV

The Ukrainian nuclear company said on Wednesday that it would support the deployment of UN peacekeepers at the Russian-occupied Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, a day after the UN called for a security zone around the facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Tuesday released a report saying the situation at the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, is “unacceptable”. The agency sent a team to the site last week.

He called for a demilitarized security zone at a factory in southern Ukraine that the Russians took over in March.

Shelling repeatedly took place around this place, which raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

The Ukrainian nuclear company Energoatom said on Wednesday it would support the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force at the site and urged Russian troops to leave.

“One of the ways to create a security zone at (the plant) could be to deploy a peacekeeping contingent there and withdraw Russian troops,” Energoatom head Petr Kotin said on Ukrainian television.

Ukraine and Russia exchanged accusations of shelling the facility, which continued on Tuesday even after the publication of the IAEA report.

The head of Ukraine’s nuclear safety agency warned on Wednesday that a nuclear accident at the facility could affect neighboring countries.

Damage to the reactor core “will have consequences not only in Ukraine, but also beyond its borders,” Oleg Korikov told reporters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that there was “no military equipment” at the plant in southern Ukraine, adding that he “unconditionally trusts” the IAEA report.

But earlier, Moscow said it wanted “clarifications” from the IAEA.

“We need to get more clarifications, because the report contains a number of questions,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Interfax news agency.

“I will not list them, but we have requested these clarifications from the Director General of the IAEA.”

– “Fukushima-like” –

Last week, a 14-member IAEA team visited Zaporozhye, and at least two members of the team were required to stay there on a permanent basis to ensure the security of the site.

But on Monday, the last operating reactor was disconnected from the grid after shelling caused a fire.

Karine Herviou, head of the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety in France, warned of the risk of a “Fukushima-type scenario”, referring to the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster.

“We are not immune to strikes (at the plant) which, even if they do not directly affect the reactors, can lead to radioactive releases into the environment,” she told FranceInfo radio on Wednesday.

– Gas, grain –

As the war rages into its seventh month, with tens of thousands killed and millions displaced, the global implications of the crisis are becoming more apparent. Countries are facing skyrocketing energy prices and severe grain shortages.

Europe, in particular, is bracing for the harsh winter ahead, especially after Russia suspended natural gas supplies to the continent via the key Nord Stream gas pipeline.

Putin denied on Wednesday that Russia was using energy as a weapon as it faced a flurry of Western sanctions over its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

“They say that Russia uses energy as a weapon. More nonsense! What weapon do we use? We are supplying as much as requested,” Putin said at the Eastern Economic Forum in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.

He added that Moscow would stop deliveries of oil and gas to countries that have imposed price restrictions, as some Western countries see it.

“We will not supply anything at all if it is contrary to our interests, in this case economic (interests),” he said at the forum.

“No gas, no oil, no coal, no fuel oil, nothing.”

The invasion also hurt grain exports from Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, which was forced to cut off almost all supplies after the invasion, sparking a global food crisis.

Grain exports through the Black Sea ports resumed in July after Kyiv and Moscow signed an agreement with the UN and Turkey, which acted as guarantors.

But Putin said on Wednesday that most of the grain was sent to EU countries, not developing countries.

“With this approach, the scale of food problems in the world will only grow,” Putin said, warning that this could lead to an “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.”

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