Russian forces have tightened their control on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant since seizing it on Friday, the United Nations nuclear watchdog has warned.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Sunday that Ukraine’s nuclear regulator informed it that staff members at the plant, the largest in Ukraine, are now required to seek approval for any operation, even maintenance, from Russian forces.
Russian forces have also switched off some mobile networks and the internet at the plant, hampering the possibility of receiving reliable information from the site through normal channels of communication, he said.
“I’m extremely concerned about these developments that were reported to me today,” said IAEA’s Director General Rafael Grossi.
“In order to be able to operate the plant safely and securely, management and staff must be allowed to carry out their vital duties in stable conditions without undue external interference or pressure,” he added.
The UN agency was informed that since Sunday, phone lines were not functioning. Mobile phone communication was still possible, but with poor quality.
“The deteriorating situation regarding vital communications between the regulator and the Zaporizhzhia NPP [Nuclear Power Plant] is also a source of deep concern, especially during an armed conflict that may jeopardise the country’s nuclear facilities at any time,” Grossi said.
Despite the difficulties, the agency confirmed that radiation levels at the plant remained normal.
The nuclear power plant was captured nine days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Russian shelling caused a fire in a building at the site, triggering global concern of a potential massive disaster. The blaze was later put out without major damage. Russia blamed the attack on Ukrainian saboteurs, calling it a “monstrous provocation”.
Ukraine is also home to Chernobyl, another nuclear plant that exploded in 1986, causing the worst nuclear accident in history. The decommissioned nuclear site was seized by Russian forces on the first day of the invasion.
On Sunday, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator also informed the IAEA that it had faced problems communicating with personnel at the Chernobyl plant. It said the more than 200 staff at the site had not been able to rotate since the seizure of the site.
In another concerning development, the IAEA said in a statement that “communications have also been lost with all enterprises and institutions in the port city of Mariupol that use Category 1-3 radiation sources and there was no information about their status”.
Grossi reiterated his willingness to travel to Ukraine to establish a framework for safeguarding nuclear facilities across the country during the conflict.