International Watchdog Rushing to Prevent Nuclear Accident in Ukraine as Conflict Escalates

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is ramping up its operations in Ukraine on a war footing in the backdrop of disturbing escalation in the conflict with Russia.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said the agency is expanding its presence in Ukraine to prevent a nuclear accident during the ongoing conflict.

Fire at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
Fire at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant Reuters

"IAEA is expanding its presence in Ukraine to help prevent a nuclear accident during the ongoing conflict. I'm proud to lead this mission to, where we're deploying in all of the country's NPPs to provide assistance in nuclear safety and security," Grossi wrote on Twitter.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant Wikipedia commons

The IAEA team is travelling to the Rivne Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) and the Chernobyl site as part of preparations. "Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will be in Ukraine next week to establish a continuous presence of nuclear safety and security experts at all the country's nuclear power facilities, significantly stepping up the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help prevent a nuclear accident during the current military conflict," the agency added.

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

One of the key objectives of the IAEA team is to make sure an accident does not happen at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The plant, which is Europe's largest nuclear power plant, is located on the left bank of the Dnipro River, where the latest Russian offensive took place.

The IAEA's move assumes significance in the backdrop of the latest Russian offensive in Dnipro, which killed at least 40 people. The apartment block was hit by Russia's Kh-22 missile on Sunday, raising fears that scores may have died. Ukraine authorities have now confirmed at least 40 peole have been killed in the attack, marking it as one of the biggest civilian casualties in the one-year war.

The apartment block was struck by a Russian Kh-22 missile, which is known to be inaccurate and that Ukraine lacks the air defences to shoot down, the Ukrainian Air Force said, according to Reuters.

Battle for Soledar
Battle for Soledar Ukraine defense ministry

Ukrainian strategists believe that more Russian attack in the region is possible as Moscow is intent on capturing key eastern cities of Soledar and Bakhmut. Soledar is only 15 kilometres away from Bakhmut, which has been the focus of Russian strategy for several months. If Moscow's troops can take control of Bakhmut, they will be well positioned to advance to two more prominent targets, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

New Ground Offensive?

Ukraine's southern command spokesperson said the Russian troops fired only half of the cruise missiles it had deployed ahead of Saturday's strikes. "This indicates that they still have certain plans ....We must understand that they can still be used," the spokesperson said, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, reports said on Monday that Russia and Belarus have launched joint air force drills, hinting at the possibility of a potential ground offensive in Ukraine.

This article was first published on January 16, 2023