Ukraine war: Evacuation prompts Zaporizhzhia nuclear safety warning
As Russian forces evacuate civilians in the nearby Ukrainian city of Enerhodar, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concern over the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Rafael Grossi stated that the situation in the Zaporizhzhia facility was “becoming more unpredictable and potentially hazardous”.
The evacuation is in anticipation of a possible counter-offensive by the Ukrainians.
The nuclear staff is still on site.
In a statement, the IAEA said “While operational staff remains on site, Director-General Grossi expressed his deep concern over the increasingly stressful and challenging conditions that personnel and their family members are experiencing”.
The IAEA said that it had received “information” from its experts at the plant, that “the announced evacuation of residents of the nearby town Enerhodar — where most of the plant staff lives — has begun”.
The BBC could not verify the extent of the evacuation reported.
Mr. Grossi stated that “We must take action now to avoid the threat of a serious nuclear accident”.
The IAEA has issued warnings previously about safety at the plant, after shelling caused some damage to installations and temporary power outages, though without triggering any leak of radiation.
The IAEA expressed concern in March that the plant had to run on diesel generators after power lines were damaged to maintain vital cooling systems.
IAEA reports that all six reactors are currently in shutdown mode.
It quotes site director Yuri Chernichuk as saying operating staff are not being evacuated and are doing everything necessary to ensure nuclear safety there.
Since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022 the number of staff at the plant has declined, the IAEA says, “but site management has stated that it has remained sufficient for the safe operation of the plant”.
Russian forces occupy much of the Zaporizhzhia region but not the regional capital Zaporizhzhia, which lies just northeast of Enerhodar across the Dnipro Reservoir. Besides Enerhodar, Russia has ordered an evacuation of civilians from 18 frontline locations in the region.
On Friday, the Russian-installed regional head Yevgeny Balitsky said that “in the past few days, the enemy has stepped up shelling of settlements close to the front line”.
“I have therefore made a decision to evacuate first of all children and parents, elderly people, disabled people, and hospital patients,” he wrote on social media.