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IAEA mission seeks to visit Zaporizhia nuclear power plant

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A mission from the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to visit the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant next week, after it was temporarily out of action and new nightly shelling of its surroundings, Ukrainian officials said on Friday.

Damage caused by a fire in a transmission line at Europe’s largest nuclear plant caused a blackout across the region on Wednesday and stoked fears of catastrophe in a country still reminiscent of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Lana Zerkal, adviser to the Ukrainian energy minister, told local media Thursday night that logistical problems were being resolved for the IAEA team to travel to the Zaporizhia power plant, occupied by Russian forces and operated by Ukrainian workers from the first days of a war that has lasted six months.

Zerkal accused Russia of trying to sabotage the visit. Ukraine accuses Moscow of holding the plant hostage, storing weapons there and launching attacks from its vicinity, while the Kremlin accuses kyiv of recklessly firing at the facility.

“Despite the fact that the Russians agreed to the mission traveling through Ukrainian territory, they are now artificially creating all the conditions for the mission not to reach the plant, given the surrounding situation,” she said without offering further details.

Moscow did not immediately comment on the matter. The head of the UN atomic agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, also said Thursday that he hopes to send a team to the plant in the coming days. Negotiations over access to the facilities are complicated but they are moving forward, he told French television France-24.

Separately, Ukrainian authorities said an area near the plant was shelled overnight, amid growing concern that an armed conflict near an active nuclear plant could cause more serious damage, although Zaporizhia’s reactors are protected with reinforced concrete containment domes.

The governor of Dnipropetrovsk, Valentyn Reznichenko, pointed out that the attacks against the city of Nikopol, which is in front of the plant, on the other side of the Dnieper River, caused damage to 10 houses, a school and a sanatorium, although there was no reason to regret victims.

In addition, a power line was cut, leaving about 1,000 residents without power, he added. Nikopol has been under almost constant attack by Russian troops since July 12. In this time, eight people have died, 850 buildings have been damaged and more than half of its 100,000 inhabitants have left.

The Zaporizhia plant was disconnected from the power grid on Thursday after a fire damaged the last active regular transmission line, the Ukrainian nuclear agency Energoatom reported.

The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, blamed the incident on Russian bombardment, saying the plant’s emergency diesel generators had to be activated to supply the power needed for its operation. The Moscow-installed governor of Zaporizhia, Yevgeny Balitsky, blamed the problems on a Ukrainian attack.

In the past 24 hours, two people have died and six more have been injured in the eastern province of Donetsk, its governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Friday. In the northeastern region of Sumy, on the border with Russia, more than 100 rounds were fired in one day and a house caught fire, said its governor, Dmytro Zhyvytsky.

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