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Military offensives increase risk of nuclear accidents in Ukraine, warns atomic security chief – POLITICO

Risk of an accident at Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant will ‘undoubtedly’ increase as Kyiv and Moscow prepare for military offensives in coming months, nuclear watchdog warns of ONU.

“There is a lot of talk about bigger and bigger maneuvers and actions in early spring or late winter,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told POLITICO ( IAEA), “which makes me think that any increase in shelling and shelling will undoubtedly increase the possibility of a nuclear accident.

Russia is likely to launch a new push to take Ukrainian territory this spring, a senior NATO official said last week, while Ukraine also said it was preparing a major counteroffensive.

The Russian army on Saturday said he had launched a new offensive in the Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia, illegally annexed by Moscow in September.

Russian troops occupied the factory, the largest in Europe, in the first weeks of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, although daily operation was still carried out by Ukrainian personnel. Enerhodar, the city hosting the plant, sits on the banks of the Dnipro River, one side of which is under Russian control while the other is in Ukrainian hands.

Grossi was in Brussels earlier this week to address the European Parliament and attend a meeting of EU foreign ministers. It is building new momentum to create a nuclear security safety and protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia plant, which has been hit by rockets and artillery shells in recent months. Although attacks have decreased in recent weeks, Grossi said there were “thousands of soldiers” near the plant.

Security area

The agency has been asking for months for an area to keep Ukrainian and Russian troops away from the plant, but progress on the plan has stalled. Grossi said it needed “political will” from Kyiv and Moscow for that to change.

“The zone is the only concrete viable initiative in this regard, other than sitting on our hands,” the IAEA chief said, adding that he would visit Russia again in February; he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg in October to lobby for the zone.

The UN agency has up to four experts stationed in Zaporizhzhia, where the six reactors have been shut down since September.

Grossi said there had been “numerous allegations” of Russian troops mistreating Ukrainian personnel at the site, and that the IAEA had “intervened … to facilitate the release” of some people. arrested by the Russians.

While Moscow insists the plant is located on newly acquired Russian soil, Kyiv is wary of any deal that could signal international endorsement of Russian presence in its territory.

Earlier this month, Petro Kotin, chairman of Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom, said a UN security buffer was not ‘realistic’ and instead called on Ukrainian forces to take over the facility by force.

But Grossi warned that any attack “puts the facility in great danger”.

He urges EU foreign ministers to get involved and use their “own channels of communication” with Ukraine and Russia to “send the message…that it is essential to avoid a nuclear accident” and that a safety zone is necessary.

Grossi also responded to increasingly frequent calls from Russian propagandists and some politicians for Moscow to respond to its setbacks on the battlefield by releasing its nuclear weapons.

“I fail to see how a conventional war – however dramatic – between a non-nuclear-weapon state and a nuclear-weapon state could…justify the use of nuclear weapons,” he said. declared.

Louise Guillot contributed reporting.

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