Ukraine’s UN chief expresses concern over situation at frontline nuclear power plant

  • UN chief met with Zelenskiy, Turkey’s Erdogan in Lviv
  • The Turkish leader said he discussed ways to end the conflict
  • Russian ‘nuclear blackmail’ could spell disaster – Zelenskiy
  • Moscow rejects calls for a demilitarized zone around the factory
  • Both sides accuse each other of planning a ‘provocation’ on the site

KYIV/LVIV, Ukraine, Aug 18 (Reuters) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday he was gravely concerned about the situation at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant after it was bombed on front lines in Ukraine.

Russia, which captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant shortly after its February 24 invasion of Ukraine, has said it may close the facility – a move Kyiv says would increase the risk of a nuclear disaster.

Guterres, speaking to reporters after talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, said military equipment and personnel should be removed from the plant.

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“The facility should not be used as part of a military operation. Instead, an agreement is urgently needed to restore the purely civilian infrastructure of Zaporizhzhia and to ensure the security of the area,” he said. he declared.

Moscow previously dismissed international calls for a demilitarized zone around the plant, which is still operated by Ukrainian engineers under Russian occupation, as “unacceptable”.

The power plant sits on the Russian-controlled southern shore of a huge reservoir; Ukrainian forces hold the northern shore. The past few days have seen several bombing incidents at the factory, which both sides blame on each other.

Ukraine also accuses Russia of using the plant as a shield for its forces to launch through-tank strikes on Ukrainian-held towns, which Moscow denies.

Reuters cannot independently confirm the military situation there or responsibility for the bombings.

Zelenskiy said after meeting António Guterres on Thursday that they had agreed on the parameters for a possible International Atomic Energy Agency mission to the plant.

Earlier he had accused Russia of “nuclear blackmail”.

“This deliberate terror on the part of the aggressor can have global catastrophic consequences for the whole world,” Zelenskiy wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

“RADIOLOGICAL DISASTER”

In Moscow, the Defense Ministry said Russia could shut down the plant if it came under further attack.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of planning to shut down the plant to cut it off the Ukrainian power grid and transfer it to Russia – stealing its production.

Ukrainian nuclear energy company Energoatom said closing the plant would increase the risk “of a radioactive disaster at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant”.

Disconnecting the complex’s generators from the Ukrainian electricity system would prevent them from being used to cool nuclear fuel in the event of a power failure at the plant, he said.

Shutting down a nuclear power plant is a complicated operation that requires stopping the nuclear chain reactions while protecting the fuel against heating and melting.

“If Russia takes action to force (the plant) to shut down Ukraine’s electricity system, it could threaten the operational safety of the plant, in addition to aggravating Ukraine’s energy crisis over the winter,” he said. Mark Hibbs, a senior fellow in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters in an email.

Both the Russian Defense Ministry and Ukraine’s main intelligence agency have accused the other side of planning some form of incident at the nuclear power plant as a “provocation” to take place during Guterres’ visit. Read more

DISCUSSION ON ENDING CONFLICTS

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also took part in talks with Guterres and Zelenskiy in Lviv, saying they then discussed ways to end the conflict.

Erdogan said they had talked about using the positive atmosphere created by a UN-brokered deal with Turkey to lift the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain exports to establish a lasting peace.

He also said that they had discussed the exchange of prisoners of war between Ukraine and Russia, and that he would later raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We attach great importance to this issue…of what happened to the exchange of these captives,” Erdogan said.

Relatives of Ukrainian soldiers who visited the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol under a UN-backed deal staged a protest during António Guterres’ visit, calling for more efforts to protect them.

Dozens of Azovstal prisoners died in the custody of Russian-backed separatists last month in a prison fire. Kyiv called it a massacre and a war crime; Moscow accused Ukraine of hitting the prison with rockets, although it offered no explanation as to why no guards were injured.

After months in which Russian forces made modest territorial gains in heavy fighting in the east, front lines in Ukraine have remained relatively static in recent weeks.

Kyiv says it is preparing for a counterattack to retake part of the southern territory, including Kherson province and the nearby city of Zaporizhzhia, where the nuclear power plant is located.

The war has killed thousands and forced millions to flee. Moscow says its goal is to demilitarize Ukraine and protect Russian speakers on land that Putin says historically belongs to Russia.

Kyiv and the West call it an unprovoked war to conquer Ukraine and erase its millennial national identity.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graff and Alex Richardson; Editing by Alison Williams and Gareth Jones

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.