(Reuters) – The head of the UN nuclear power watchdog warned on Saturday that the situation around Russia’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant had become “increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous” and called for measures to ensure its safe operation.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, issued the warning in light of what he said were ongoing evacuations in the nearby town of Enerhodar, ordered by the Russian-installed local governor.
“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is becoming more and more unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” Grossi said on the agency’s website.
“I am extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant. We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment.”
Russian forces seized the Zaporizhzhia plant days after President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of his neighbor in February 2022. Exchanges of fire have frequently taken place near the facility, with each side blaming the other.
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Grossi last visited the Zaporizhzhia station, Europe’s largest nuclear power facility, in March, as part of efforts to talk with both sides to secure an agreement on safeguards to ensure the plant’s safe operation.
He has repeatedly warned about the dangers of military operations around the plant.
Russia last September proclaimed the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, including the Zaporizhzhia region.
The plant is located in the part of that region under Russian control, and many of the staff who operate it live in Enerhodar, on the southern bank of the Dnipro river.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed governor of the Russian-controlled part of the Zaporizhzhia region, said on Friday that he had ordered the evacuation of villages near the front line with Ukrainian forces there. He said Ukrainian shelling had intensified in the area in recent days.
A widely expected Ukrainian spring counteroffensive against Russian forces is seen as likely to take the Zaporizhzhia region, some 80% of which is in Moscow’s hands.
(Reporting by Ron Popeski)
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