U.N. Team Heads to Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — A team of international nuclear inspectors was heading Wednesday to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant caught in the middle of the fighting in southern Ukraine amid international concern of a potential accident or radiation leak.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he hoped to establish a permanent mission in Ukraine to monitor Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

“These operations are very complex operations. This is a conflict zone. We will be occupying territory. And this requires explicit guarantees from not only from the Russians, but also from the Republic of Ukraine,” Grossi said in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv before the monitoring the mission’s departure.

“We have been able to secure that. … So now we are moving.”

Since the beginning of the six-month-old conflict, the power plant was occupied and managed by Russian troops.

Fire damage caused it to be disconnected temporarily from the electric grid, leading to a blackout across the region. It also raised concerns about the possibility of an earthquake in a nation still haunted after the Chernobyl catastrophe.

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German Galushchenko, Ukrainian Energy Minister, stated that Kyiv seeks international support to demilitarize its region.

“We think that the mission should be a very important step to return (the plant) to Ukrainian government control by the end of the year,” Galushchenko told The Associated Press.

“We have information that they are now trying to hide their military presence, so they should check all of this.”

Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s vital energy source, is still connected to the power grid. Russia and Ukraine are accused of attacking the region surrounding the nuclear power plants. Officials have started to distribute anti-radiation pills to the residents.

Grossi met with Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President, Tuesday to discuss the planned mission which is likely to last several hours.

Inspectors from IAEA, an UN body, are due to travel to Zaporizhzhia, located approximately 450km (280 mi) southeast of Kiev capital later Wednesday.

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