The International Atomic Energy Agency is urging the world to unite on how to properly maintain nuclear facilities in war-torn Ukraine amid Russia’s ongoing onslaught on the nation.
“We cannot afford to lose any more time. We must act now,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement Wednesday, which made no direct mention of Russia or its President Vladimir Putin.
“I remain deeply concerned about the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities,” Grossi said. “We have been and will remain in close and continuous contact with the Ukrainian government, the State Nuclear Regulatory Agency of Ukraine and the nuclear operator Energoatom.”
The IAEA said earlier this month that Ukraine’s intelligence agency had hinted that Russia was planning to take “complete and permanent” control of the facility, which Russia denied.
Grossi offered to personally come to Ukraine to help resolve the situation. Any agreement, he said, “would include extensive assistance and support measures, including the presence of IAEA experts on the ground at various facilities in Ukraine, as well as the supply of vital security equipment.”
“This assistance is essential to avert the real risk of a major nuclear accident that could endanger public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi said.
Nerve-wracking bombing raids over the past month have seen Russian forces forcefully seize control of two nuclear plants: the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest such power plant in Europe, and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was the scene of a 1986 nuclear meltdown.
Hundreds of workers are being held hostage at both facilities, ostensibly to avoid disaster, but they are reportedly not being well taken care of.
“Physically and morally they are exhausted,” the wife of a technician working at the Chernobyl site told Agence France-Presse, a French news service. According to reports, the workers receive only two small meals a day.
Before the war, the Chernobyl facility was maintained by nuclear engineers working for a Ukrainian regulatory agency. The area around the meltdown, known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, remains one of the most radioactive places in the world.
Ukraine’s nuclear agency announced this week that radiation monitors around Chernobyl have shut down and that Russian bombs have destroyed a new laboratory at the site that handles nuclear waste.
The lab, the agency said, contained “highly active samples and samples of radionuclides now in enemy hands that we hope will harm themselves and not the civilized world.”
A video released from the Zaporizhia plant in early March showed a worker yelling at the Russians over the speaker system, asking them to stop bombing the nuclear site.
No bombs hit critical infrastructure there, but the incident alarmed security experts around the world, who said nuclear facilities should be off-limits in warfare.
The World Nuclear Association provides a detailed schedule of plant takeovers on its website.