By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) -No damage was done to reactors at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and there was no release of radioactive material after a military projectile hit a nearby building on the site, U.N. atomic chief Rafael Grossi said on Friday.
Two members of security staff were injured when the projectile hit overnight after the Ukrainian authorities reported a battle with Russian troops near Europe’s biggest power plant, which is operating at just a small fraction of its capacity with one of its six units still running.
At a news conference called at short notice, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Grossi showed an overhead shot of the site and the building that was hit, a training centre close to but separate from the row of reactor units.
“What we understand is that this projectile is a projectile that is coming from the Russian forces. We do not have details about the kind of projectile,” Grossi said, adding that the radiation monitoring system at the site was functioning normally.
“We of course are fortunate that there was no release of radiation and that the integrity of the reactors in themselves was not compromised,” he added.
Russia’s Defence Ministry on Friday blamed the attack on Ukrainian “saboteurs”. Reuters could not independently verify what happened in the incident.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the first time war has broken out in a country with such an advanced and established nuclear power programme, the IAEA says. Zaporizhzhia is the biggest of the country’s four operational nuclear power plants, together providing about half Ukraine’s electricity.
Grossi suggested meeting Russian and Ukrainian officials at defunct power plant Chernobyl, where Russia has seized the radioactive waste facilities near the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, so that they could commit not to do anything to endanger nuclear security in Ukraine.
Staff on duty at Chernobyl have not been rotated out since it was seized last week despite repeated appeals by Grossi. The situation at Zaporizhzhia was similar in that Russia controls it but Ukrainian staff continue to operate it.
“For the time being it is purely Ukrainian staff running the operations there. What we have in this case as we speak … is in Chernobyl and in Zaporizhzhia we have effective control of the site in the hands of Russian military forces. I hope the distinction is clear,” Grossi said.
Russia and Ukraine were considering his offer of a meeting at Chernobyl. Grossi appealed overnight on both sides not to clash near Zaporizhzhia.
“I’m extremely concerned. This is something which is very, very fragile, very unstable as a situation,” he said on Friday.
“Right now we have this normal abnormality, if I can put it like that. The other day in my statement (to the IAEA Board of Governors) I was saying normal operations (at Zaporizhzhia) but in fact there is nothing normal about this.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Frank Jack Daniel and Alex Richardson)