The International Atomic Energy Agency is pleading for the world to come to an agreement on how nuclear facilities in war-torn Ukraine will be properly maintained during Russia’s ongoing assault on the nation.
“We cannot afford to lose any more time. We need to act now,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a Wednesday statement that did not mention Russia or its President Vladimir Putin directly.
“I remain gravely concerned about the safety and security of the nuclear facilities in Ukraine,” Grossi said. “We have been and will remain in close and continuing contact with the Ukrainian Government, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspector of Ukraine, and the nuclear operator Energoatom.”
The IAEA said earlier this month that Ukrainian intelligence indicated Russia planned to take “full and permanent” control of the facility, which Russia denied.
Grossi offered to personally come to Ukraine to help address the situation. Any agreement, he said, “would include substantial assistance and support measures, including an on-site presence of IAEA experts at different facilities in Ukraine, as well as the delivery of vital safety equipment.”
“This assistance is essential to help avert the real risk of a severe nuclear accident that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi said.
Through nerve-wracking bombing campaigns over the last month, Russian troops have forcibly taken control of two nuclear facilities: the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is the largest such facility in Europe, and the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which was the site of a catastrophic meltdown in 1986.
Hundreds of workers are being held hostage at both facilities, ostensibly to avoid catastrophe, but they are reportedly not being well taken care of.
“Physically and morally, they are exhausted,” the wife of one technician who works at the Chernobyl site told Agence France-Presse, a French news service. The workers are reportedly fed only two small meals per day.
Before the war, the Chernobyl plant was maintained by nuclear engineers working for a Ukrainian regulatory agency. The area around the meltdown site, called the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, remains one of the most radioactive spots in the world.
Ukraine’s nuclear agency announced this week that radiation monitors around Chernobyl had stopped working and that Russian bombs had destroyed a new laboratory on the premises that handled nuclear waste.
The laboratory, the agency said, contained “highly active samples and samples of radionuclides that are now in the hands of the enemy, which we hope will harm itself and not the civilized world.”
Video released from inside the Zaporizhzhia plant in early March had shown how a worker shouted at the Russians over the loudspeaker system, begging them to stop bombing the nuclear site.
No bombs hit any critical infrastructure there, but the incident alarmed security experts around the world who said nuclear facilities should be off-limits in warfare.
The World Nuclear Association offers a detailed timeline of the plant takeovers on its website.