“There has been more military activity, including this morning until recently,” Grossi said, adding that after being briefed by the Ukrainian military, he decided to move despite the inherent risks. “But once we weigh the pros and cons and have come this far, we’re not going to stop.”
He noted that the risks are “very, very high” in the so-called gray zone between Ukrainian and Russian positions, but “we believe we have the minimum conditions to move.”
Zaporizhzhya, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, is occupied by Russian troops but has been run by Ukrainian engineers since the early days of the 6-month-old war. Ukraine claims that Russia uses the factory as a shield, stores weapons there and launches attacks from the area, while Moscow accuses Ukraine of reckless firing in the area, raising the threat of a nuclear disaster that could affect the entire continent.
Fighting at the beginning of March caused a brief fire in the training complex and in recent days the plant has been temporarily taken offline due to damage, increasing fears of a radiation leak or reactor failure. Officials have started handing out anti-radiation iodine tablets to local residents.
“We have a very important mission to accomplish,” Grossi said, adding that “we will immediately begin an assessment of the security and safety situation at the plant.”
“I will consider the possibility of establishing a continued IAEA presence at the plant, which we believe is indispensable to stabilize the situation and to receive regular, reliable, impartial and neutral updates on what is happening there. is,” he said. .
The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukrainian forces unleashed artillery fire in the area and then sent a group of up to 60 scouts to try to seize control of the nuclear power plant.
It said Ukrainian troops arrived in boats and landed three kilometers northeast of the plant on the left bank of the Dnieper River and tried to seize it. The ministry said Russian forces have “taken steps to destroy the enemy”, deploying fighter jets.
“The provocation by the Kiev regime is intended to derail the arrival of the IAEA group at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Russian-installed administration of the city of Enerhodar, just outside the factory, said at least three local residents were killed and one injured in the Ukrainian shelling.
Ukrainian authorities accused Russia of shelling Enerhodar and the nuclear plant’s territory in a false flag attack designed to derail the arrival of the IAEA team.
“We demand that Russia stop provocation and allow the IAEA unimpeded access to the Ukrainian nuclear facility,” Zaporizhzhya Governor Oleksandr Starukh said.
Neither side’s version of events could be independently verified immediately.
Ukraine’s Enerhoatom company that oversees the country’s nuclear power plants said mortar shelling by Russian forces led to the shutdown of one of its reactors by its emergency protection system.
It added that the shelling also damaged a backup power line used for internal needs, and that one of the plant’s reactors that was down had switched to diesel generators.