IAEA team departs on dangerous journey to Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility



The 14 experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including Director-General Rafael Grossi, arrived in Kyiv Tuesday, after striking a hard-fought bargain with Ukrainian and Russian officials to visit Zaporizhzhia and inspect the plant. They left for the facility early on Wednesday and, according to a local Russian-backed official, are expected to arrive on Thursday morning.

Grossi said their mission is to assess and stabilize the situation.

“We are going to a war zone, to occupied territory. This requires explicit guarantees not only from the Russian Federation but also from the Republic of Ukraine. And we have been able to secure that,” he added. “We are ready, the IAEA is ready.”

There has been no confirmation of exactly when the visit will take place. The Zaporizhzhia plant is located about 420 miles from Kyiv, and the drive could take 10 hours or more, depending on rest stops and military checkpoints.

Both Ukrainian and Russian officials have welcomed the trip.

Zaporizhzhia has been occupied by Russian troops since March, shortly after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine. Though the war has raged for more than six months, skirmishes near the facility intensified this summer.

It’s unclear what sort of access the IAEA inspectors will be granted on their arrival or how long their visit will last. A Russian-appointed local official told the news agency Interfax that the visit would last just one day, which may not be enough time to fully inspect Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, however, wants the IAEA to help strike a deal that would demilitarize Zaporizhzhia, rather than simply inspect the plant.

“This is one of the most (high) priority issues regarding the security of Ukraine and the world,” Zelensky said on Tuesday.

Zelensky’s government alleges that the Kremlin is using the nuclear plant as a fortress to protect its soldiers and launch attacks, some of which have struck the plant, because they know that Ukrainian forces have been ordered not to fire back at the sprawling complex.

Ukrainian leaders have also accused Russia of mismanaging the nuclear plant, putting its staff and nearby residents in danger.

The plant was disconnected from the energy grid for the first time in its history last week for about 24 hours due to fires at a nearby thermal power facility. At the time, Zelensky said if the reactors shut down, the plant would be “one step away from disaster.”

Russia alleges that Ukrainian forces are firing at the plant and says Kyiv is complicating its efforts to safely operate the facility.

Each side denies the others’ allegations. CNN is unable to verify who is responsible for the shelling.

Though Zelensky and other Western leaders have expressed strong concerns about fighting so close to a nuclear facility, experts say a massive nuclear disaster like the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, which killed an untold number of people, is unlikely.

In an abundance of caution, local authorities made available iodine pills, which protect users against radioactive iodine and help prevent thyroid cancer in case of an accident.



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