United Nations (CNN) — The “alarming” situation at a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine has reached a “critical moment,” the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Thursday, while calling for an immediate inspection of the facility. plant by international experts.
The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, warned that parts of the Zaporizhia nuclear plant had been destroyed due to recent attacks, with the risk of a possible “unacceptable” radiation leak.
“The IAEA experts believe that there is no immediate threat to nuclear security,” but “that could change at any time,” Grossi said.
“Any military action that endangers nuclear safety, nuclear security, must cease immediately,” he added. “These military actions near such a large nuclear facility could have very serious consequences.”
The Zaporizhia facility, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, occupies a sprawling site on the Dnipro River near the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar. It has continued to operate at reduced capacity since Russian forces captured it in early March, and Ukrainian technicians are still working.
So far, Russia and Ukraine have been unwilling to agree to an IAEA inspection of the plant and have accused each other of bombing the facility, an action the IAEA says violates “indispensable pillars of nuclear safety and security.”
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, on Thursday blamed Ukraine for the bombing and urged supporters of Kyiv to stop the attacks and prevent a disastrous radiation leak.
But Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, singled out Moscow, which he said was endangering all of Europe.
“Only the complete withdrawal of the Russians from the territory of the Zaporizhia NPP and the restoration of Ukraine’s full control over the situation around the plant will guarantee the restoration of nuclear security for all of Europe,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom said 10 shells landed near the complex on Thursday, preventing a shift change.
“For the safety of nuclear workers, the buses with the staff of the next shift were returned to Enerhodar,” the agency said. “Until the situation finally normalizes, workers from the previous shift will continue to work.”
Energoatom said radiation levels at the site remained normal, despite new attacks.
Several Western and Ukrainian officials believe that Russia is using the giant nuclear facility as a bastion to protect its troops and mount attacks, assuming that Kyiv will not return fire or risk a crisis.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Moscow of using the plant to protect its forces, while Britain’s Defense Ministry said in a recent assessment that Russia’s actions at the complex sabotage the security of your operations.
The Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said in late July that Russian forces had been observed using heavy weapons near the plant because “they know very well that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will not respond to these attacks, as they can damage the nuclear power plant”.
The United States on Thursday backed Ukraine’s calls to create a demilitarized zone around the facility, while at the UN, Bonnie Jenkins, US undersecretary for arms control and international affairs, said Russia is responsible for “nuclear risks.” “in the plant.
He warned the UN Security Council that “the many consequences of this conflict, including the situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, will only end when Russia ends its war.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who earlier called the bombings at the plant “suicidal,” said in a statement Thursday that he was “gravely concerned.”
“We must be clear that any potential damage to Zaporizhia or any other nuclear facility in Ukraine, or anywhere else, could have catastrophic consequences not only for the immediate vicinity, but also for the region and beyond,” he said.
Two new ships loaded with grain leave Ukraine
The Joint Coordination Center (JCC) has authorized the departure of two more cargo ships with more than 63,000 tons of grain from Ukraine this Friday, the JCC said in a statement on Thursday.
The Marshal Islands-flagged vessel Star Laura, carrying 60,150 tons of corn, left the southern port city of Yuzhne for Iran, the National Defense Ministry said on Friday.
The ministry also said that the Belizean-flagged ship Sormovskiy 121, carrying 3,050 tons of corn, left the port of Chornomorsk, located in the Odessa region, bound for the Turkish port of Tekirdag.
The JCC said they have also authorized two cargo ships to travel to the port of Odessa pending inspections. They said the two vessels would be inspected on Friday in the Sea of Marmara.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the country was awaiting the arrival of the freighter Brave Commander to load more than 23,000 tons of grain for export to Ethiopia, Kubrakov tweeted on Thursday.
The Joint Coordination Center, which oversees the export of Ukrainian grain, was one of the key creations of the grain deal agreed between Russia and Ukraine under the auspices of the UN and Turkey.
Meanwhile, the first grain ship to leave Ukraine last week has left Turkey and is headed for Egypt, according to ship tracking website Marine Traffic, after the original Lebanese buyer refused to accept the cargo. .
“The cargo ship Razoni, carrying Ukrainian grain under the Sierra Leone flag, left the Turkish port of Mersin and headed for Egypt,” Russian state news agency TASS reported on Friday, citing Marine Traffic.
Zelensky warns Ukrainian commanders not to reveal military plans and operations
The President of Ukraine warned Ukrainian commanders and officers not to talk about the course of Ukraine’s military campaign against the Russian occupation.
His statements come as a result of an interview granted by a high command, Major General Dmytro Marchenko, on the plans for the liberation of the city of Kherson, occupied by Russia.
Zelensky said in his video message on Thursday: “I would like to point out one important thing for all representatives of state and local authorities, the military sphere and others who comment on the events at the front, the defense plan of the command, the preparation of specific operations, etc. The general rule is simple: war is definitely not the time for vanity and loud declarations.”
“The less concrete details they give about our defense plans, the better it will be for the execution of those defense plans,” Zelensky said. “They should feel their responsibility for every word they say about what our state is preparing to defend or counteroffensive.”
Hanna Maliar, deputy defense minister, said that “recently, the SBU (the State Security Service) discovered that a high-ranking military officer’s interview with a well-known publication contains information that, according to certain indicators, reveals information about the content of the strategic (operational) plans for the use of the Armed Forces of Ukraine”.
He said an investigation was underway.
Neither Zelensky nor Maliar mentioned Marchenko by name.
In his interview with RBC Ukraine, Marchenko said the goal was to liberate the Kherson region by the end of the year.
“I want to convey to the people of Kherson… that it won’t be as long as everyone expects. It will be quick.”
He also discussed Ukrainian operations to disable bridges across the Dnipro River that have been used by Russian forces to resupply units in Kherson.
There has also been widespread speculation about the cause of the massive explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea on Tuesday, with Ukrainian officials offering differing accounts of the background, but Ukraine does not officially acknowledge any role in the blasts, which detonated munitions and destroyed at least seven Russian military aircraft.
Richard Roth, Jonny Hallam, Gul Tuysuz, Sugham Pokharel, Jennifer Hansler, Tim Lister, Yulia Kesaieva, Josh Pennington, Alex Stambaugh, and CNN’s Tara John contributed to this report.