UN nuclear chief visits Ukraine nuclear plant amid safety concerns

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi is seen on his way to Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine March 29, 2023. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

KYIV (Reuters) -The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog visited the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday as part of efforts to avert the risk of an atomic accident.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, arrived by car at Europe's largest nuclear power plant to review the situation there, an IAEA spokesperson said.

Grossi wants to assess first-hand the "nuclear safety and security situation" and press on with efforts to broker a deal to protect the plant.

"I am not giving up in any way. I think on the contrary we need to multiply our efforts, we need to continue," Grossi told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

In Moscow-held territory, he told Russian news agencies that the situation at the plant had not improved, that fighting nearby had intensified and that he wanted to come up with realistic ways to reduce the threat of a catastrophe.

Moscow and Kyiv have repeatedly accused each other of shelling the site of the power station over the last year. Grossi has been pushing for a safety agreement between Ukraine and Russia to protect the facility.

A Reuters reporter at the Russian-held plant saw a motorcade transporting the IAEA expert mission arriving at the facility, escorted by the Russian military.

Grossi told Reuters in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro on Tuesday that the situation at the plant remained "very dangerous" and "very unstable", noting that military activity in the region had increased in recent weeks.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February last year, has been pressing a winter offensive in the east, while Ukraine is expected to launch a counteroffensive using Western-supplied battle tanks and fighting vehicles.

The sprawling Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was a prized part of Ukraine's energy network and accounted for around 20% of national power generation before the Russian invasion.

It has not produced any electricity since September, when the last of its six reactors was taken offline.

Ukraine's Energoatom nuclear agency said Grossi would assess how the situation had changed at the plant, speak to workers and also act as a "guarantor" for the rotation of a group of IAEA monitors at the facility.

The IAEA has had monitors stationed at the plant since September, when Grossi travelled to the facility as fears were mounting of the possibility for a nuclear accident.

It is Grossi's second visit to the Zaporizhzhia plant since it was captured by Russian troops.

Grossi, who met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday, says his attempt to broker a deal on protecting the plant is still alive, and that he is adjusting the proposals to seek a breakthrough.

(Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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