KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog is expressing growing anxiety about the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, after the governor of the Russia-occupied area ordered the evacuation of a town where most plant staff live amid ongoing attacks in the area.
The plant is near the front lines of fighting, and Ukrainian authorities said yesterday that a 72-year-old woman was killed and three others were wounded when Russian forces fired more than 30 shells at Nikopol, a Ukrainian-held town neighbouring the plant.
“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Head Rafael Grossi said in a warning that came on Saturday before the latest report of attacks.
“I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant.”
Grossi’s comments were prompted by an announcement on Friday by the Russian-installed governor of the partially-occupied Zaporizhzhia province Yevgeny Balitsky, that he had ordered the evacuation of civilians from 18 settlements in the area, including Enerhodar, which is located next to the power plant, which is Europe’s largest.
The settlements affected are about 50 to 70 kilometres from the front line of fighting between Ukraine and Russia, and Balitsky said that Ukraine had intensified attacks on the area in the past several days.
Analysts have for months pointed to the southern Zaporizhzhia region as one of the possible targets of Ukraine’s expected spring counteroffensive, speculating that Kyiv’s forces might try to choke off Russia’s “land corridor” to the Crimean Peninsula and split Russian forces in two by pressing on to the Azov Sea coast.