IAEA chief makes plea for Zaporizhzhia safe zone after outage

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By Francois Murphy

VIENNA, March 9 (Reuters) – U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi on Thursday appealed for a protection zone around the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine after another outage there, saying he was “astonished by the complacency” around the issue.

“Each time we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue time after time then one day our luck will run out,” Grossi told the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.

Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant lost its last external power line early on Thursday after missile strikes across Ukraine overnight.

The plant is now down to emergency diesel generators, a last line of defence to keep cooling reactor fuel and prevent a potentially catastrophic meltdown.

As in previous attacks, Russia and Ukraine blamed each other. Grossi has been trying to get both sides to strike a deal in which they would pledge not to fire at or from the plant and heavy weapons would be removed, diplomats say.

“This is the sixth time – let me say it again sixth time, that ZNPP has lost all off-site power and has had to operate in this emergency mode,” Grossi told the board’s quarterly meeting, according to an IAEA statement.

“Let me remind you – this is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. What are we doing? How can we sit here in this room this morning and allow this to happen? This cannot go on. I am astonished by the complacency.”

He said that everyone must commit to protect the plant’s safety and security.

“And we need to commit now. What we need is action,” he said.

In Other Developments


* Russia launched a huge wave of missile strikes across Ukraine while people slept on Thursday, killing at least six civilians and forcing a nuclear power plant off the grid. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy condemned the strikes and said Moscow “won’t avoid responsibility”.

* Ukraine’s military said its forces had managed to push back intense Russian attacks on the eastern mining town of Bakhmut, despite a Russian claim of control of its eastern half.

* Zelenskiy said the battle for Bakhmut and the surrounding Donbas region was “our first priority”.

Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.


* Russia-installed officials in the Moscow-controlled part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region said a halt in electricity supplies to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station from Ukrainian-held territory was “a provocation”.

* Western allies warned against reaching premature conclusions on who was responsible for blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines, with Germany suggesting the attack could also have been a “false flag” operation to blame Ukraine.

* The U.S. obtained a warrant for the seizure of a Boeing aircraft owned by Russian oil group Rosneft that is valued at over $25 million, the U.S. Justice Department said.

* A concert cellist linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin moved millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts without any proper checks, Swiss prosecutors said at the opening of a trial of four bankers accused of helping him. They have denied the charges.

* European Union countries agreed to speed up supplies of artillery rounds and buy more shells to help Ukraine but still have to work out how to turn these aims into reality.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi . EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

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