Alexander Stashevsky and Kara Anna | Olx Praca
CHERNOBYL, Ukraine — 36 years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday that Russian troops risk causing an accident by taking over the “very, very dangerous” Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
The agency’s director general Rafael Mariano Grossi, wearing a blue IAEA jacket and standing under an orange umbrella in the rain outside the damaged nuclear power plant, said that while radiation levels are normal, the situation is still “unstable.” Nuclear authorities should “be on the lookout,” he said.
Russian troops entered the radioactively contaminated Chernobyl exclusion zone in February on their way to the Ukrainian capital. They left late last month as Russia withdrew its troops from areas near Kyiv and turned its attention to the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Since then, the site is back in the hands of the Ukrainians, and the interrupted connection has been restored.
Ukrainian officials said Russian occupiers held factory workers at gunpoint during a marathon shift that lasted more than a month, with staff sleeping on a table and eating only twice a day.
Grossi congratulated workers on reducing potential risks during the occupation, including power outages.
“I don’t know if we were very close to disaster, but the situation was absolutely not normal and very, very dangerous,” he said.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, celebrating the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster on Twitter, said that “not everyone realized” the danger of nuclear energy.
“Now Russia’s actions at Ukrainian nuclear power plants threaten humanity with a new catastrophe.”
The explosion and fire at Chernobyl on April 26, 1986 released radioactive materials into the atmosphere and became a symbol of the last years of the Soviet Union. The international community, including Russia, has spent billions to stabilize and secure the area.
The block in which the explosion and fire occurred was sheathed in a high-tech casing. However, the danger remains at the plant as spent fuel rods require around-the-clock maintenance. Fuel comes from the station’s four reactors, all of which are now shut down.
Russian forces continue to hold an operating nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, in southern Ukraine. Fighting damaged the training building of the Zaporizhzhya plant in early March.
An Olx Praca reporter who visited Chernobyl this month saw evidence that Russian soldiers were digging trenches in the wooded Chernobyl exclusion zone in the early hours of the invasion, churning up heavily contaminated soil.
Members of the IAEA team who arrived on the scene on Tuesday for repairs and assessments carried black suitcases from their vans to the Chernobyl buildings. Grossi said they brought dosimeters and other equipment for radiation monitoring.
“After the occupation of this plant, there is a lot of work to be done,” he said. “We need to do some renovations so we can restore the connection we have with Vienna so we can provide useful information to the Ukrainian people and the rest of the world.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the world’s nuclear regulator, is based in the capital of Austria.
During the Russian occupation, Chernobyl lost its normal power supply. Plant workers relied on diesel generators to keep the critical water running to cool the spent nuclear fuel.
Asked if the dangers posed by the Russian occupation were similar to those posed by the original Chernobyl accident, Grossi replied: “In this case, you had an explosion, you had a working reactor. The situation was completely different. In this case, we had a nuclear safety situation that was not normal and could develop into an accident.”
Responding to public concerns about the risks associated with nuclear power during wars, Grossi told reporters that the problem is “not with nuclear power. The problem is in the war.
Anna reported from Lvov, Ukraine.