KYIV — Russian forces occupying Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant have placed explosive mines near the facility, warned the chief of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The mines were located in a buffer zone between the plant’s internal and external barriers and were facing away from the facility; they were spotted during a Sunday walk-around by IAEA inspectors.
“Having such explosives on the site is inconsistent with the IAEA safety standards and nuclear security guidance and creates additional psychological pressure on plant staff,” the agency’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement issued Monday.
This is the second month in a row that the U.N. atomic watchdog has reported the presence of explosives both outside and inside the perimeter of the nuclear plant, which Russian security personnel on site explained were for defensive purposes.
Grossi’s warning comes as authorities in Kyiv are also raising the alarm over Russia’s intentions toward Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
“It might blow up any moment; we just don’t know when. Russians have completely cut us off the safety monitoring systems,” Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko told POLITICO earlier this month. “We trust our military intelligence and IAEA experts on the ground. But we have no control over the station and that is alarming.”
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly warned the world community about the potential dangers of Russia mining ZNPP, saying that last month’s destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam underlines that Moscow is willing to risk civilian lives to further its political and military goals in Ukraine.
“Nobody believed us [that] Russia can do such a thing as blow up the dam. And see what happened. ZNPP is always in the spotlight, Russia still got no punishment. No sanctions were imposed on its nuclear energy industry,” Galushchenko said.
The plant’s six reactors have been shut down since September, but the facility’s access to the Ukrainian power grid — needed to power cooling systems — has been regularly disrupted, something that happened again over the weekend. The front line is just a few kilometers away.
As Ukrainian troops have been slowly advancing in the Zaporizhzhia region, Kyiv officials are afraid that Russians might try to create a diversion at the ZNPP to stop the counteroffensive, the minister added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency remains the shaky guarantor that ZNPP can avoid the dam’s fate.
“It is good they are there, doing their job. However, I wish they, as technical specialists, would explain the reason why most of the safety protocols are violated,” Galushchenko said. “Experts are doing their job … Russian occupation is the main reason why ZNPP is in constant danger.”
The plant is under Russian military occupation, but is still being run by its Ukrainian staff.