KYIV, Ukraine —
A team of international inspectors was heading Wednesday to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, where fierce fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces has raised international concern over a potential accident or radiation leak.
Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he hoped to establish a permanent mission in Ukraine to monitor Europe’s largest nuclear plant.
“These operations are very complex operations. We are going to a war zone. We are going to occupied territory. And this requires explicit guarantees from not only from the Russians but also from the Republic of Ukraine,” Grossi said in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv before the monitoring mission’s departure.
“We have been able to secure that. … So now we are moving.”
The power plant has been occupied by Russian forces and operated by Ukrainian workers since the early days of the 6-month-old war.
It was recently cut off temporarily from the electrical grid because of fire damage, causing a blackout in the region and heightening fears of a catastrophe in a country haunted by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko said Kyiv was seeking international assistance to try to de-militarize the area.
“We think that the mission should be a very important step to return [the plant] to Ukrainian government control by the end of the year,” Galushchenko told the Associated Press. “We have information that they [the Russians] are now trying to hide their military presence, so they should check all of this.”
The Zaporizhzhia plant is a vital source of energy for Ukraine and remains connected to the country’s power grid. Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the wider region around the facility, and the risks of an accident are so severe that officials have begun distributing anti-radiation iodine tablets to nearby residents.
Grossi met Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss the IAEA mission, which is expected to last several days. The inspectors from the IAEA, a United Nations body, are expected to reach the Zaporizhzhia region, 280 miles southeast of the Ukrainian capital, later Wednesday.