IAEA voices concern for staff at Ukrainian nuclear plant, demands access


FILE PHOTO: A view shows a damaged building at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant compound, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 17, 2022. Press service of National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom/Handout via REUTERS

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog is increasingly concerned about the welfare of Ukrainian staff at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Europe's largest, it said on Friday, adding that it must go there as soon as possible.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has for months said that the situation at Zaporizhzhia, where Ukrainian staff are working operating the plant under the order of Russian troops, poses a safety risk and that it wants to send a mission there.

"The IAEA is aware of recent reports in the media and elsewhere indicating a deteriorating situation for Ukrainian staff at the country's largest nuclear power plant," a statement by the Vienna-based United Nations agency said.

It added that it was "increasingly concerned about the difficult conditions facing staff..., and it must go there as soon as possible to address this and other urgent issues".

One of those issues was that IAEA inspectors need to carry out verification work, including checking on the "large amounts" of nuclear material there.

Although remote transmission of data on that material to IAEA headquarters was restored this month, physical inventory verifications must still be carried out in person by inspectors within an interval that "cannot exceed a specified duration", the agency said, without elaborating.

Two of the plant's six reactors have recently been refuelled and such checks on that fuel are a prerequisite before restarting them, it added. Two reactors are currently operating.

"The situation at this major nuclear power plant is clearly untenable. We are informed that Ukrainian staff are operating the facility under extremely stressful conditions while the site is under the control of Russian armed forces," IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in the statement.

"The recent reports are very troubling and further deepen my concern about the well-being of personnel there."

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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