NATO considers it “urgent” that the UN nuclear watchdog carry out an inspection of the Ukrainian plant in Zaporizhia, which is under Russian military control, said the secretary general of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, on Wednesday.
“It is urgent to authorize an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to guarantee the withdrawal of all Russian forces” from the site, Stoltenberg told a news conference in Brussels.
The Russian occupation of the Zaporiya plant (in southern Ukraine) “poses a serious threat to the facilities [and] raises the risk of a nuclear accident or incident,” he warned.
The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, was seized by Russian troops shortly after the start of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Since the end of July, the area has been the target of bombing, which Moscow and kyiv blame on each other. Ukraine also accuses Russia of using the plant as a base to carry out attacks on areas controlled by kyiv and as an arsenal.
Russian officials stationed there, quoted by the Interfax news agency, said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces were shelling the town of Enerhodar, where the plant is located. They accused Ukraine of doing so to provoke Russia into returning fire.
The Ukrainian side did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters could not immediately verify the latest bombing reports.
Each side has blamed the other for the heightened risks in Zaporizhia, which Russia seized in March, though Ukrainian technicians continue to operate there.
The region’s governor, Oleksandr Starukh, said up to 400,000 people would have to be evacuated in the event of an accident, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the area around the plant to be demilitarized.
The Ukrainian conflict has caused the flight of millions of people, has caused thousands of deaths and has deepened the geopolitical gap between Moscow and the West.
Moscow calls its invasion a “special military operation” to demilitarize its neighbor, protect Russian-speaking communities and oppose the expansion of NATO’s military alliance with member states closer to Russia.
Ukraine, which was part of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, accuses Moscow of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.
In a speech at a security conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of trying to prolong the war in Ukraine by supporting the government of Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, while fueling friction in Asia.
He cited the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the UK and the US as evidence of Western attempts to build a NATO-style bloc in the Asia-Pacific region.
With information from AFP and Russia