UN safety mission heads to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

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A team from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is heading to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine on a safety mission, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced Monday.

Grossi tweeted that the IAEA team “is now on its way” to the plant, which Russian forces seized in March but which Ukrainian staff continue to operate. Grossi said he will lead the mission, which is due to arrive at the nuclear facility “later this week.” He added: “We must protect the safety and security of Ukraine’s and Europe’s biggest nuclear facility.”

Fierce fighting and heavy shelling by Russian forces in the vicinity of Zaporizhzhia have raised fears of a nuclear disaster at the plant. The U.N. and world leaders have been calling for IAEA inspectors to get access to Zaporizhzhia.

The planned IAEA visit comes after the plant was temporarily disconnected from the Ukrainian electrical grid last week, with the country’s energy operator Energoatom warning over the weekend of the risks of a radioactive leak at Zaporizhzhia.

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The fears of a nuclear accident reportedly prompted authorities to hand out iodine tablets to help residents in the event of a radiation leak.

Meanwhile, Russia blocked an agreement at the U.N. that was aimed at bolstering the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, reportedly over a reference to the Zaporizhzhia plant in the text.

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