IAEA chief Grossi meets Putin in Sochi to discuss nuclear safety

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi shake hands during their meeting in Sochi, Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi shake hands during their meeting in Sochi, Russia Copyright Valeriy Sharifulin/Sputnik
By AP, Euronews
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The UN's nuclear watchdog sought a “professional and frank” discussion about Ukraine's nuclear safety with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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The chief of the UN's atomic watchdog is visiting Russia to discuss international concern sabout the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which remains caught up in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

The plant, Europe's largest nuclear facility, has been caught in the crossfire since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in 2022, seizing the facility shortly after they stormed the country. Its six reactors are currently shut down.

Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told Russia Today that he and Putin discussed the possibility of restarting the plant and whether it will be necessary to do so.

He added that his conversation with Putin was “professional and frank” and that he was able to express his opinion, in particular concerning the situation at Zaporizhzhia.

“The situation continues to be enormously fluid and precarious, as I have said several times," he told the state-controlled outlet. “I would say that apart from these technicalities, it is important that the leaders of the two belligerents listen to the director general of the IAEA.

"For the moment, this is the case.”

He later posted on X that he and the Russian president had had an "important exchange".

The IAEA chief last met with Putin in October 2022. He visited Ukraine in February, crossing the front line to visit the Russian-held plant as part of the IAEA’s efforts to prevent a nuclear disaster amid ongoing hostilities. He also held a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Before heading to Russia, Grossi told reporters in Vienna that he considered it important to maintain a dialogue with both sides and added that the situation with the Zaporizhzhia plant “continues to be very fragile.”

He said that he expected to discuss “technical issues” related to “the future operational status of the plant” in Moscow. He also said if the plant is to be restarted, he would need to discuss “what kind of safety evaluation” would be needed and that he planned to discuss the issue of external power supply lines.

The plant has suffered eight losses of off-site power since the Russians seized it, forcing it to rely on emergency diesel generators temporarily, and it continues to face challenges related to staffing.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.LIBKOS/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Ukraine’s Energoatom, which operates all of the country's nuclear power plants, has repeatedly said that Russia restricted qualified Ukrainian staffers from accessing the Zaporizhzhia plant after they refused to take Russian citizenship and sign contracts with Rosatom.

Nearly 5,200 workers have left the plant since Russia took over in March 2022, according to Petro Kotin, Energoatom’s Acting Board Chairman. He said in a statement on Tuesday that at the beginning of this year, 360 Ukrainian employees – who didn't have contracts with Rosatom – were still working at the plant, but that starting in February, they couldn't access the facility anymore.

Kotin said Ukrainian staffers were replaced with Russian workers or residents of Russian-controlled cities and towns nearby "who do not understand what a nuclear power plant is.”

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