UN nuclear agency says danger won't stop them as they arrive at a Ukrainian nuclear plant amid increased military activity around it
- International nuclear inspectors visited Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on Thursday.
- The UN-linked agency says its staff are at risk from heightened military activity but will continue with their mission.
Nuclear watchdog inspectors arrived on Thursday afternoon at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to assess the facility's safety and security, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.
The mission, led by the agency's director general Rafael Mariano Grossi, faced delays on Thursday morning due to heavy shelling in the area.
Leading up to the visit, the IAEA said the mission was in danger because of increased military activity around the facility, but that fighting wouldn't stop them from inspecting the facilities.
The Zaporizhzhia plant, which is Europe's largest nuclear power plant, has been under Russian control since March, though Ukrainian civilians are still staffing the facility.
The IAEA inspectors, accompanied by Grossi, arrived in the nearby town of Zaporizhzhia on Wednesday, in what Grossi described as "a mission that seeks to prevent a nuclear accident."
Grossi told reporters on Thursday, according to Reuters: "There has been increased military activity including this morning, until very recently, a few minutes ago ... but weighing the pros and cons and having come so far, we are not stopping."
He also said that his team faces "inherent risks" as they leave what he called the "gray zone" — where Ukrainian defenses end around the Russia-controlled plant, CNN reported.
An IAEA spokesperson told Reuters on Thursday morning that the inspectors were held up at a Ukrainian checkpoint after shelling in the area.
The area around the site has been shelled since it was taken, with Ukraine and the United Nations-linked IAEA warning of potential nuclear disaster. Both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of trading hostilities this week in the run-up to Thursday's inspection.
The IAEA did not say who was responsible for the military activity it was concerned about.
Energoatom, the plant's Ukrainian operator, said Thursday that Russia carried out attacks near the plant, including in residential areas.
And Ukraine on Wednesday said Russia had been shelling the route to the plant to try and direct the IAEA through Russia-controlled territory. Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to Ukraine's president, said Russia was "deliberately shelling corridors" to the plan so that inspectors would have to go through Russian "controlled territory."
The IAEA has not commented on this claim, and did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
The Ukrainian mayor of the city of Enerhodar, which is near Zaporizhzhia, wrote in a Telegram post there had been "constant mortar shelling" since early Thursday morning.
"One can hear automatic weapons. It is known that several civilian facilities were hit. There are victims! We are clarifying how many," he said.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the Zaporizhzhia region, said early on Thursday morning that Ukraine had been shelling IAEA team's meeting point, without giving evidence. Russia's ministry of defense also made the claim.
Rogov claimed that Ukrainian shelling had killed at least three civilians and injured five people, including a child. He said Ukraine shelled residential areas.
Energoatom noted Thursday that one of the plant's two reactors was shut down in response to the shelling. Zelenskyy said last week that Russian shelling near the plant had left Europe "one step away" from a radiation disaster as it took the plant offline, and that automated systems had prevented that disaster.
The IAEA had been trying to visit the plant even before that incident.
Grossi said last week that he wanted to visit as soon as possible: "Almost every day there is a new incident at or near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. We can't afford to lose any more time," he said.
Grossi has previously warned fighting at the power plant poses a "very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond."
Experts told Insider in March that the chance of a nuclear meltdown at Zaporizhzhia was low, but warned of potential catastrophe if there was fighting nearby.
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