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A Russian soldier patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar, Ukraine on May 1, 2022.

A Russian soldier patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar, Ukraine on May 1, 2022. (Photo: Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images)

UN Chief Denounces Shelling of Ukraine Nuclear Plant as 'Suicidal'

To avert a public health calamity, Ukrainian officials are calling for the Zaporizhzhia site to be demilitarized and run by a team of peacekeepers.

Kenny Stancil

Global concerns about the possibility of a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia power station in southeastern Ukraine continued on Monday, with officials from Kyiv calling for the creation of a demilitarized zone around the site and the head of the United Nations condemning the latest shelling there.

"Any attack [on] a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said at a press conference in Japan.

The Zaporizhzhia complex, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world, was hit by shelling over the weekend, eliciting grave warnings about ongoing threats to public health and the environment "in Ukraine and beyond" from International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi, who said there is substantial risk for a calamity worse than Chernobyl.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for recent strikes on the site, which is located in a region that Russia took over in March and that Ukraine is trying to recover. According to Ukrainian officials, Russian soldiers damaged three radiation sensors and hurt two workers amid renewed shelling at the plant on Friday and Saturday. Russian authorities, by contrast, alleged that "Ukrainian nationalists" damaged two high-voltage power lines, necessitating a reduction in output to "prevent disruption."

Guterres on Monday stressed that international nuclear inspectors need immediate access to the facility, which is still being operated by Ukrainian technicians.

"We fully support the IAEA in all their efforts in relation to create the conditions of stabilization of the plant," said the U.N. chief.

Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine's ambassador to the IAEA, demanded a U.N.-led international mission to Zaporizhzhia by the end of the month and accused Russia of targeting the site in an attempt to cause blackouts along Ukraine's electricity grid in the south.

"We will use all possible channels of diplomacy to bring the IAEA and U.N. closer to conducting this mission," Tsymbaliuk told reporters in Vienna, home to the world's nuclear watchdog organization. "We really need it urgently, as soon as possible."

Petro Kotin, head of Energoatom, Ukraine's state-owned nuclear power enterprise, made the case for demilitarizing Zaporizhzhia and the surrounding area and called for the deployment of a peacekeeping team to the site.

"The decision that we demand from the world community and all our partners... is to withdraw the invaders from the territory of the station and create a demilitarized zone on the territory of the station," Kotin said on television.

"The presence of peacekeepers in this zone and the transfer of control of it to them, and then also control of the station to the Ukrainian side would resolve this problem," he said.

If missiles were to break two or more containers holding highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel, Kotin emphasized, "it is impossible to assess the scale of this catastrophe."

Guterres' Monday remarks came just two days after he warned that "humanity is playing with a loaded gun" during the Hiroshima peace memorial ceremony, which marked the 77th anniversary of the United States' atomic bombing of Japan—the first and only wartime use of nuclear weapons.


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