On May 6, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that the area around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the Zaporizhzhia power plant in southeast Ukraine, is “becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the Director-General of the IAEA said in a statement that he was “extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risk” facing the plant, and that, “We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment.”
He said the Russian-occupied facility “must be protected.”
“I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant. We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment,” he said.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is nearly twice the size of the Chernobyl power plant, which experienced a catastrophic meltdown in 1986.
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According to IAEA experts on site, the area around the plant is experiencing significant shelling on a regular basis which poses a direct threat to the safe operation of the plant.
The shelling has spurred a wave of evacuations.
Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of a nearby town, Enerhodar, where many of the plant’s workers live, said the evacuations were fueled by Russian forces that are creating a “panic.”
“The first wave of evacuations began yesterday morning, but it cannot be called ‘mass’ now. Some of the people who wanted to leave were loaded onto buses. Some left in their own vehicles. Accordingly, gas stations ran out of fuel yesterday. ATMs do not work, or work with great restrictions, and there is nowhere to withdraw money,” he said NBC News reported.
According to a Facebook post by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, residents were fleeing to Berdiansk and Prymorsk, two small towns on the Azov coast that are also under Russian occupation.
The statement also indicated that only people with Russian passports or who had accepted Russian citizenship prior to the first months of Russia’s invasion would be evacuated, but this claim has not been verified.
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‘Grave radiological risk’
The plant, which consists of six reactors and generates more power than any nuclear facility in the United States, was captured by Russia in the early days of the invasion however is still operated by Ukrainian technicians.
Alarm bells were raised in August last year when the plant was hit by shelling, an incident that both sides of the conflict blame the other for.
Last March, Grossi visited the plant as part of an effort to secure an agreement by both sides to ensure the plant’s protection while the United States accused Russia of failing to address the “grave radiological risk” his invasion created around the plant.
While the number of staff at the plant has declined in recent months, the plant is still adequately staffed and staff are not being evacuated.
What is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history occurred in Ukraine in 1986; the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster near the northern Ukrainian city of Pripyat.
Over 100,000 people living near the site had to be evacuated and radiation from the disaster was detected across Europe.
It’s suspected that 50 people died in the disaster, a figure is highly contested by scientists and environmental groups.
If a serious incident were to occur at the Zaporizhzhia plant, many Ukrainian lawmakers speculate that it could result in as many as three million people losing their lives and another 51 million being directly affected by the resulting radiation.