Zelenskyy, atomic agency chief discuss nuclear plant fears


ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — The U.N.'s atomic energy chief warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a meeting Monday that the perilous situation at Europe’s largest nuclear plant “isn’t getting any better” as relentless fighting in the area puts the facility at risk of a nuclear disaster.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, which continues to power war-torn Ukraine, has lost several of its power transmission cables during Russia's war, and on multiple occasions has had to switch to emergency diesel generators to power its essential cooling systems preventing a meltdown.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi plans to visit the Russian-held plant this week. The Vienna-based agency has staff permanently deployed at the plant following Russia’s invasion 13 months ago.

In the meeting, covered exclusively by The Associated Press, Grossi said the situation at the plant remains tense because of the heavy military presence around it and a blackout that recently struck the facility, something that has occurred repeatedly since Russian forces took it over last year.

Earlier this month, fighting interrupted the power supply to the plant for half a day, forcing staff to activate backup generators.

Grossi expressed alarm at that development. “Each time we are rolling a dice,” he told his agency at the time. “And if we allow this to continue time after time, then one day our luck will run out.”

Grossi and Zelenskyy met in the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is in Ukrainian-held territory, about 30 miles northeast of the nuclear plant with the same name.

The IAEA announced in January it was placing teams of experts at all four of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants to reduce the risk of accidents.

The agency's permanent presence at all of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities marked an unprecedented expansion for the agency. That presence includes the now-closed Chernobyl plant whose deadly nuclear accident in 1986 spread fallout over much of Europe.

Grossi emphasized that his seventh trip to Ukraine underlined his commitment and support for “as long as it takes.”

Also attending the meeting were other IAEA officials, the head of the presidential office Andriy Yermak and the head of nuclear state operator Energoatom, Petro Kotin.

While in Zaporizhzhia, Zelenskyy also inspected military positions in the partially-occupied province and awarded soldiers with military honors. He also visited with wounded soldiers at city hospitals, and an apartment building that Kyiv claims was hit by Russian forces last Wednesday, killing at least one person.