Ukraine is “living on borrowed time”, the United Nations nuclear chief has warned, as Russian forces extended a belt of landmines around the Zaporizhzhia power plant to defend against imminent counter offensives. Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned of “severe consequences for human health and the environment”. Shelling, mine explosions and confrontation between the two forces in the vicinity of the plant has forced the facility to rely on emergency backup diesel generators multiple times in the past without disaster striking but Mr Grossi claimed “our luck will run out sooner or later”.
Ukraine power producer Energoatom reported on Thursday that a “Russian mine exploded near the control room of the fourth power unit” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” making this the second incident in four days.
While neither explosion happened within the plant’s perimeter fence, the IAEA warned that such activity was a real threat to “nuclear safety and security” in the region.
The IAEA has been stationed at the plant since last September, several months after its Russian occupation, to ensure disaster is avoided.
But Mr Grossi, the IAEA director general, said: “We are living on borrowed time when it comes to nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
“Unless we take action to protect the plant, our luck will sooner or later run out, with potentially severe consequences for human health and the environment.”
Mr Grossi did not endorse the Ukrainian accusation that the latest mine to explode belonged to Russia, nonetheless Energoatom continued to suggest Putin’s forces were acting like “henchmen” in the plant.
“Europe’s largest nuclear facility continues to suffer from the arbitrariness of the Russian military and their henchmen, while Ukrainian personnel are desperately trying to maintain the nuclear and radiation safety of the entire continent,” they said.
It also claimed that Russian troops at the plant admitted to the Ukrainian workers that it was “their own mine that detonated”, though this could not be verified.
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On Wednesday, the Ukrainian authorities said that Russian forces had extended the belt of land mines they have laid around the plant’s large grounds, which are on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
They added that Russia has also stationed soldiers and military equipment at the plant itself.
Even though the plant’s six reactors no longer produce power for Ukraine’s grid, the complex still requires power for safety and maintenance reasons.
Lines supplying electricity to the plant have been cut several times in the past by shelling, forcing the facility to rely on emergency backup diesel generators.