Evacuations from Zaporizhzhia renew concerns for nuclear power plant safety

 The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has raised concerns as to the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, describing it as “increasingly unpredictable,” after Moscow ordered the evacuation of residents from Russian-occupied areas close to the facility.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, is held by Russian forces but mostly operated by a Ukrainian workforce.

The town of Enerhodar was among 18 front-line settlements whose residents were evacuated over the weekend. Most of the plant’s staff live in the town, the International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.

Safety fears: Grossi said he was deeply concerned about the “increasingly tense, stressful, and challenging conditions” for personnel and their families and about “the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant.”

“We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment,” Grossi warned.

The evacuation of Enerhodar comes amid rumors of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, with the southern region likely to be a major target as Kyiv seeks to reclaim territories taken by Moscow.

The site director Yuri Chernichuk said operating staff are not being evacuated and “are doing everything necessary to ensure nuclear safety and security at the plant.”

Chernichuk said the plant’s six reactors are all in shutdown mode and its equipment is being maintained, “in accordance with all necessary nuclear safety and security regulations,” according to Grossi.

Why Zaporizhzhia matters: Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear power. Should Russia keep the Zaporizhzhia plant – which it took control of in March last year – Ukraine would lose about 20% of its domestic electricity generating capacity. Analysts have said Russia would want to capture the plant undamaged, with hopes of serving its own electricity market.

The plant has frequently been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid due to intense Russian shelling in the area, repeatedly raising fears across Europe of a nuclear accident, though experts say another Chernobyl-sized disaster remains unlikely.

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