KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The International Atomic Energy Agency is placing teams of experts at all four of Ukraine's nuclear power plants to reduce the risk of severe accidents as Russia's war against the country rages on, agency head Rafael Grossi said Wednesday.
The IAEA, which is affiliated with the United Nations, already has a permanent presence at Ukraine's — and Europe's — largest nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia that is held by Russian forces.
The IAEA's permanent presence at all of Ukraine's nuclear facilities, with at least 11 staff in total, marks an unprecedented expansion for the agency. IAEA technicians will also be at Chernobyl, the now-closed nuclear plant that was the site of a deadly nuclear accident in 1986 that spread fallout over much of Europe.
“From tomorrow, there will be two flags at all of the nuclear facilities in Ukraine; one of Ukraine and the second of the international nuclear agency,” Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said at a joint press conference with Grossi at the government headquarters in Kyiv on Wednesday.
Grossi's pledge of IAEA support to Ukraine comes as the country reels from a weekend Russian missile strike on an apartment building in the southeastern city of Dnipro which killed 45 civilians, and a helicopter crash Wednesday at a kindergarten in the Kyiv area killed the country's interior minister and about a dozen others.
Grossi arrived in Ukraine this week to raise the IAEA flag and install staff at each nuclear facility, visiting Chernobyl on Wednesday and Rivne Tuesday. Staff will remain at the facility for “as long as they are requested” by the Ukrainian government, he said.
The IAEA flags flying in Ukraine are “not just symbolic” said Grossi. “They reflect and they will signify the presence of some of the best-renowned experts in safety and security who will provide advice, and technical support during this very difficult time to each facility facing different challenges and problems depending on the situation.”
Shmyhal also said he requested that the IAEA imposes sanctions on Russia's Atomic Agency, deprives Moscow of rights and privileges within the IAEA and halts any form of nuclear cooperation with the country. Grossi said that decision would fall on member states to discuss.
The IAEA experts will deepen the technical expertise at each plant to prevent nuclear accidents as Russia's war, now in its 11th month, continues, and to monitor nuclear safety and security systems. Grossi said the missions are being installed at the request of the Ukrainian government.
The Ukrainians made the plea because “quite simply there are attacks on (the facilities),” the prime minister said. “We want to avoid any nuclear accidents, therefore we turned to the IAEA for security and protection.”
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is located on the frontline of ongoing battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces. Russian forces captured the facility in March, and it has repeatedly come under fire since. All six reactors there are now shut down, though the plant is still connected to the electricity grid for safety reasons.
Grossi is pressing to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone around Zaporizhzhia, where the IAEA has been present for more than four months.
“I remain determined to make the much-needed protection zone a reality as soon as possible. My consultations with Ukraine and Russia are making progress, albeit not as fast as they should," Grossi said in an earlier statement on Tuesday. At the press conference he said the IAEA was still in consultation with the Ukrainian government about establishing the zone. “We are closer to a good outcome,” he said.