The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned late this Monday that its operators have found mines in the vicinity of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (southern Ukraine), the largest facility of its kind in Europe, according to a statement. It’s not the first time. Russia affirms that the placement of these explosives is due to military reasons, as reported by the director of this organization, the Argentine Rafael Grossi. The Kiev government denounced since last month that Moscow, which occupies the plant, has a plan to blow up the plant and places the placement of explosives in this context, about which the president, Volodímir Zelenski, and the head of military intelligence, Kirilo Budanov, have warned.
Both the IAEA and the United States have lowered the alarm generated by the kyiv authorities in recent weeks. “As I previously reported, the IAEA has been made aware of previous mine-laying outside the site perimeter and also in particular locations inland. Our team has communicated this specific finding to [los responsables de] the plant and they have been told that it is a military decision, and in an area controlled by the military,” Grossi commented. “During a walk on July 23, the IAEA team saw some mines located in a buffer zone between the site’s internal and external perimeter barriers. The experts reported that they were located in a restricted area that the plant’s operating personnel cannot access and had their backs to the site. The team did not observe any within the interior perimeter of the site during the walk, “says the text of the IAEA statement.
A month ago now, Ukraine warned that Russia allegedly had a plan already “drafted and approved” to attack the plant. The head of military intelligence assured in a interview granted to The New Statesman that the Russian occupation forces had placed mines in the pond that allows the plant to cool. Budanov also said the Russians had moved vehicles with explosives into four of the six reactors. kyiv accused Moscow of preparing a “provocation” and having placed “objects similar to explosive devices” on the roofs of reactors three and four. The Kremlin warned, for its part, of a possible Ukrainian “subversive act” with “catastrophic consequences.”
Faced with these crossed accusations, the IAEA requested greater access to the place to verify the facts in an “independent and objective” manner. The United States did not see, however, an imminent danger. Nor did the IAEA complaint warn that Vladimir Putin could give the order to cause an explosion.
In any case, the city of Zaporizhia has since hosted various drills and training sessions to prepare for the scene of an accident or attack reminiscent of the one suffered at the Chernobyl power plant, north of Kiev, in 1986. Health sources also acknowledge that among the possibilities they are considering, they foresee having a large number of beds if something happens at the nuclear plant or in its surroundings.
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Coinciding with the announcement by the atomic energy agency, which depends on the United Nations and is based in Vienna, reactors number four and five were put into a state of shutdown, according to the plant’s administration from Moscow. “In order to carry out a scheduled technical inspection of the equipment of power unit number five, the management of the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant decided to transfer it to the cold shutdown state,” the officials announced on their Telegram social network channel. “And to provide steam for the station’s own needs, the power unit number four reactor plant was transferred to a hot shutdown state,” they added.
The Ukrainian state nuclear energy company, Energoatom, criticized the fact that Russia had put reactor number 4 on hot shutdown, considering that it contravenes, according to the company, the country’s legislation. “On July 24, 2023, despite the demands of the National Regulatory Commission for Atomic Energy and Energoatom, reactor number 4 of the occupied Zaporizhia nuclear plant was put on a hot shutdown,” the company warned, while insisting that “these actions are a flagrant violation of the license requirements to operate this nuclear facility.” “Currently, unit number 4 of the plant must be operated exclusively in cold shutdown,” says the statement quoted by the Efe news agency.
Russia has kept the plant occupied since the first days of March 2022 and the place has not ceased to be on the front line not only of combat, but of controversy all this time. This is one of the most sensitive and dangerous points invaded by Kremlin troops in all of Ukraine. kyiv’s fear increased especially since in early June, and according to indications and various investigations, Russia allegedly blew up another critical installation in Ukraine, the Nova Kakhovka dam. Already that same month, the IAEA said that it was aware of the existence of mines near the plant’s pond and that in the past these devices were placed outside the perimeter of the plant and in various locations inside that, according to the personnel of the facilities, were of a “defensive” nature.
The plant stands on the banks of the Dnieper River in a region whose territory of 27,000 kilometers is 66% in the hands of the invaders. In the midst of the controversy, an IAEA mission was authorized to remain continuously inside the plant, although it does not have freedom of movement and has to submit to the decisions of the Russian occupiers. The last time that the director of that organism, the Argentine Rafael Grossi, visited the facilities was the heavy month of June.
Zaporizhia is also one of the main fronts on which the local army has been carrying out a counteroffensive since the first days of June with the intention of regaining control of these occupied areas. The front line has been around 50 kilometers from Energodar, the town that hosts the plant, for months.
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