March 8 (UPI) — The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has offered to visit Ukraine for talks to secure its nuclear facilities after another building containing radioactive material was damaged by Russian shelling over the weekend.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement Monday that he’s willing to travel to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to secure a commitment to the safety and security of all of Ukraine’s facilities.
“We must take action to help avert a nuclear accident in Ukraine that could have severe consequences for public health and the environment,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait.”
Grossi’s offer follows Ukraine informing the IAEA that shelling in the city of Kharkiv on Sunday damaged a new nuclear research facility that produces radioisotopes for medical and industrial uses.
While radiological consequences of the facility being damaged are not expected due to nuclear material in the facility being subcritical and its inventory of radioactive material being very low, the fact it was damaged at all highlights the dangers such facilities in the country face, Grossi said.
“This time, if there is a nuclear accident, the cause will not be a tsunami brought on by mother nature,” he said, referring to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by an earthquake-induced tsunami. “Instead, it will be the result of human failure to act when we could, and we knew we should.”
Since the start of the invasion late last month, several nuclear facilities have been impacted by the ensuing war.
The IAEA states an electrical transformer at a Kharkiv nuclear disposal facility was damaged during fighting on Feb. 26. The next day a similar facility in the capital Kyiv was hit by missiles.
Then on Friday, a fire broke out at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant after facing Russian artillery fire and came under Russian command on Sunday, making it the second plant to be under the Kremlin’s forces control after the Chernobyl facility was taken at the start of the invasion.
The occupation of the two sites has impacted their security with the IAEA saying it has not been able to deliver spare parts of medicine to the Zaporizhzhia facility and that the 210 technical staff and guards working at the Chernobyl plant have not been able to rotate, meaning they have worked straight through.
The IAE said that “having operating staff subject to the authority of the Russian military commander contravenes an indispensable pillar of nuclear safety.”
The regulator also said the safety and security of facilities that use dangerous category 1-3 radiation sources in the eastern port city of Mariupol are currently unknown as it has not been able to communicate with them.
Of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear power plants, eight of them were operating including two at the Zaporizhzhya site.