- Ukraine, Russia trade blame for hits on Zaporizhzhia plant
- Kyiv warns of Chornobyl-style disaster unless area secured
- Urges international mission to plant by the end of August
- Russia says it’s ready to enable U.N. watchdog visit to plant
- UN’s Guterres says any attack on a nuclear plant is ‘suicidal’
KYIV, Aug 8 (Reuters) – International alarm over weekend shelling attacks on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex grew on Monday with Kyiv warning of the risk of a Chornobyl-style catastrophe and appealing for the area to be made a demilitarised zone.
The United Nations chief called for U.N. nuclear inspectors to be given access to the plant as Kyiv and Moscow traded blame for the shelling in a southern region seized by Russian invaders in March and now targeted by Kyiv for a counter-offensive.
“Any attack (on) a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a news conference on Monday in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on Saturday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing.
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Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom, called for a team of peacekeepers to be deployed at the Zaporizhzhia site, which is still run by Ukrainian technicians. read more
“The decision that we demand from the world community and all our partners … is to withdraw the invaders from the territory of the station and create a demilitarised zone on the territory of the station,” Kotin said on television.
“The presence of peacekeepers in this zone and the transfer of control of it to them, and then also control of the station to the Ukrainian side would resolve this problem.”
Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency (IAEA), accused Russia of trying to cause blackouts along Ukraine’s electricity grid in the south by targeting the plant. He called for a U.N.-led international mission to the plant by the end of this month.
“We will use all possible channels of diplomacy to bring the IAEA and U.N. closer to conducting this mission. We really need it urgently, as soon as possible…,” Tsymbaliuk told reporters in Vienna, where the IAEA is based.
The RIA Novosti news agency then quoted Moscow’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency as saying Russia was ready to facilitate an IAEA visit to the reactor complex.
The Russian defence ministry said Ukrainian attacks had damaged high-voltage power lines servicing the Soviet-era plant and forced it to reduce output by two of its six reactors to “prevent disruption”. read more
A Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhzhia region said earlier that the facility was operating normally.
Ukraine blamed Russia for attacks in the area of the plant that it said damaged three radiation sensors, with two workers hospitalised for shrapnel injuries. Reuters could not verify either side’s version of what happened.
In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the shelling was “extremely dangerous” and added: “We expect the countries that have absolute influence on the Ukrainian leadership to use this influence in order to rule out the continuation of such shelling.”
Ukraine’s Kotin flagged the danger of shells hitting spent containers of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel as especially dire. If two or more containers were broken, “it is impossible to assess the scale of this catastrophe”.
The world’s worst civil nuclear disaster occurred in 1986 when a reactor at the Chornobyl complex in northwest Ukraine exploded. The plant was occupied by Russian forces soon after the Feb. 24 invasion before they withdrew in late March.
Guterres said IAEA personnel needed access to the Zaporizhzhia to “create conditions for stabilisation”.
Ukraine has said it is planning to conduct a major counter-offensive in the Russian-occupied south, apparently focused on the city of Kherson, west of Zaporizhzhia, and that it has already retaken dozens of villages.
GRAIN EXPORTS PICK UP STEAM
Elsewhere, a deal to unblock Ukraine’s food exports and ease global shortages gathered pace as two grain ships sailed out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, raising the total to 12 since the first vessel left a week ago. read more
The two latest outgoing ships were carrying almost 59,000 tonnes of corn and soybeans and were bound for Italy and southeastern Turkey. The four that left on Sunday bore almost 170,000 tonnes of corn and other food.
The July 22 grain export pact brokered by Turkey and the United Nations represents a rare diplomatic triumph as fighting churns on in Ukraine and aims to help ease soaring global food prices arising from the war.
Before the invasion, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports. The disruption since then has raised the spectre of famine in parts of the world.
Ukraine has said it hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain in silos and 40 million from its new harvest to help rebuild its wrecked economy.
Russia says it is waging a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked imperial-style war to reassert control over a pro-Western neighbour lost when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.
The conflict has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in ruins.
Russian forces are trying to gain full control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.
“Ukrainian soldiers are firmly holding the defence, inflicting losses on the enemy and are ready for any changes in the operational situation,” Ukraine’s general staff said in an operational update on Monday.
Russian forces stepped up attacks north and northwest of Russian-held Donetsk city in the Donbas on Sunday, Ukraine’s military said.
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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Stephen Coates and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie
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