russia-ukraine conflict | Fear of nuclear disaster imminent at Zaporizhzhia power plant, warns IAEA Chief

New Delhi, Apr 16: In a chilling address to the Security Council yesterday, Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), sounded the alarm on the escalating threat of a nuclear catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia Power Plant in Ukraine.

Grossi’s stark warning comes in the wake of unprecedented direct attacks on the facility, marking a significant escalation in the risk to nuclear safety and security.

The recent drone strikes targeting the Unit 6 reactor building, while causing only superficial damage, have set a dangerous precedent by breaching the containment of a nuclear reactor.

Grossi emphasised the gravity of these attacks, stressing that they pose a grave risk to the integrity of the plant and represent a dangerous departure from established principles aimed at preventing nuclear accidents.

Despite repeated violations of key safety principles, including attacks on the plant and its infrastructure, Grossi highlighted the IAEA’s unwavering commitment to monitoring and safeguarding Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.

However, he cautioned that the situation is rapidly deteriorating, with the plant now operating on minimal external power sources and facing an unprecedented level of risk.

“On Saturday, the so-called ‘ cold shutdown’ of all six reactors at the plant was carried out for the first time since late 2022,” said Grossi. “This move, long recommended by the atomic watchdog, builds in an extra level of safety where cooling systems fail.”

“In the past 10 days alone,” Grossi continued, “we’ve witnessed a drone strike on the oxygen and nitrogen production facility, two attacks on the training centre, and a drone shot down above the turbine hall of Unit 6.”

He highlighted the concerning trend of escalating attacks on critical infrastructure, underscoring the grave risks posed to nuclear safety.

“Both sides have blamed the other for targeting the plant,” Grossi noted, expressing frustration at the ongoing conflict’s impact on nuclear safety.

“Let me put it plainly — two years of war are weighing heavily on nuclear safety at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,” he stressed. “Every one of the IAEA’s seven pillars of nuclear safety and security have been compromised.”

“We cannot sit by and watch as the final weight tips the finely balanced scale,” Grossi urged, emphasising the urgent need for action to address the mounting risks.

“Even though the plant’s six reactors are now in cold shutdown, the potential danger of a major nuclear accident remains.”

Grossi’s urgent plea for immediate action underscores the pressing need to avert a potential nuclear disaster amid tensions escalating and the spectre of further attacks looming large.

As Russia’s assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure continues unabated, millions of civilians are facing dire consequences, with widespread blackouts plunging communities into darkness and depriving them of essential services.

The recent devastating attacks on power plants highlight the severity of the crisis and the urgent need for a concerted global response to prevent further escalation and safeguard civilian lives.

As the conflict enters a dangerous new phase, the prospect of a nuclear accident at the Zaporizhzhia Power Plant looms large, casting a shadow of uncertainty and fear over the region.

With the stakes higher than ever, decisive action is needed to avert a catastrophic outcome and uphold the principles of nuclear safety and security.

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