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IAEA: Ukraine nuclear plant not immediate risk, experts need access

There is "no immediate threat" to safety at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant despite continued shelling, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Thursday.

There is “no immediate threat” to safety at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant despite continued shelling, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Thursday.

Rafael Grossi told the UN Security Council in New York the situation could however change “at any moment” and called on Moscow and Kiev to grant international experts access to the plant as quickly as possible. “I am personally ready to lead such a mission,” he said.

The US also called for an expert trip. “This visit cannot wait any longer,” US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Bonnie Jenkins told the council.

Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia pledged Moscow’s cooperation and said a visit should ideally take place before the end of August.

“We stand ready to provide all possible assistance to resolving organizational matters,” Nebenzia said. After the meeting, he emphasized the fact that no country on the 15-member council had blamed Russia for the attacks on the plant.

Just hours before the session convened at Russia’s request, the Zaporizhzhya plant in southern Ukraine – the biggest in Europe and among the world’s largest – was attacked with heavy artillery and rocket launchers, according to a representative of the Russian occupying forces, Vladimir Rogov.

Rogov said firing had come from Ukrainian areas. The information could not be independently verified.

Operator Ernohoatom said there were 10 hits in the area, but that the situation at the plant remained under control with radioactivity no higher than usual.

The plant located in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar was shelled several times and partially damaged last weekend, but its critical infrastructure was said to be intact.

Ukraine accuses Russia of using the plant as a stronghold for attacks, while the pro-Russian separatists accuse Ukraine of shelling the plant to get the West to intervene.

Rogov rejected calls from the G7 to return the plant to Ukrainian control, saying “that would be like giving a hand grenade to a monkey.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres earlier said he was “gravely concerned” about the situation.

“Regrettably, instead of de-escalation, over the past several days there have been reports of further deeply worrying incidents that could, if they continue, lead to disaster.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meanwhile said Russia was holding the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant hostage and using it for blackmail, in comments via video link at the start of a Ukraine donor conference in Copenhagen.

Zaporizhzhya is the third largest nuclear power plant on Earth, he noted as he warned of the risk of a disaster bigger than Chernobyl in 1986.

Donors committed more than €1.5 billion ($1.54 billion) in support of Ukraine at the conference that focused on long-term support for weapons, training soldiers and helping Ukraine clear mines.

The money is earmarked for use this year and next, Danish Defence Minister Morten Bødskov said. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic also agreed to expand production of artillery systems, ammunition and other equipment, while Britain promised more multiple rocket launchers and M31A1 precision missiles.

Fighting also continued in other parts of Ukraine as researchers sought to clarify what happened in a recent attack on the Russian-occupied Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

Following a series of heavy explosions, satellite images cited by US media appeared to show several destroyed Russian fighter jets at the Crimea base. Kiev had previously spoken of 10 aircraft.

Both The New York Times newspaper and the US Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported that at least eight aircraft were burnt on Thursday.

The official Russian version of events is that there was a fire at the base and exploded munitions due to negligence. There were also reports from Moscow of one dead and 14 injured.

Some observers suggest Russia is reluctant to admit to a Ukrainian attack as that would indicate its air defences had failed. Kiev has also not officially claimed responsibility for the blasts.

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