Putin agrees to UN inspection of occupied nuclear power plant

Control room The control room of a nuclear reactor. Credit: Getty Images

President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emanual Macron called for an independent inspection of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the Kremlin said in a statement Friday after the two leaders spoke by telephone.

The nuclear complex, which is the largest in Europe, has for the last several days been the focus of intense fighting, with both Moscow and Kyiv blaming one another for shelling the plant and risking a nuclear disaster on par with — or worse than — the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

The plant fell into Russian hands during the early weeks of the war, and Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of using the site’s six reactors and radioactive spent fuel stores as a nuclear “shield” from which to launch offensives against Ukrainian targets. Moscow has denied that.

According to the Kremlin statement, Putin “stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe that could lead to radiation contamination of vast territories.”

Both leaders called for experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the plant “as soon as possible” and “assess the real situation on the ground,” the Kremlin statement read, adding that Moscow has “confirmed its readiness to provide the Agency inspectors with the necessary assistance.”

In a separate statement, the French presidency said that Macron “supported the dispatch of a mission of experts from the IAEA to the site under conditions agreed by Ukraine and the United Nations,” Agence France Press reported, via The Moscow Times.

Putin and Macron will speak again “in the coming days on this subject after talks between the technical teams and before the deployment of the mission,” AFP said, quoting the French presidential administration.

Putin’s remarks come a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry rejected a United Nations appeal to withdraw its troops from the Zaporizhzhia site. They also follow weeks of suggestions by Moscow that an IAEA visit would be too difficult to safely carry out.

During much of early June, several weeks after the Zaporizhzhia site had been occupied by Russian force, Ukrainian officials roundly rejected the notion of an IAEA inspection of the plant, saying such a visit would serve only to justify Russia’s claim on the complex.

Kyiv’s response to Putin and Macron’s conversation remained unknown on Friday.

Also unknown are Russia’s ultimate intentions for the Zaporizhzhia site, which produces 20 percent of the electricity consumed in Ukraine.

A handful of technicians from Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, are at the complex supervising the work of the Ukrainian staff. Yet Rosatom’s head, Alexei Likhachev, has said the firm doesn’t aspire to take control of the plant out of Ukraine’s hands.

But other Russian government officials have stated their intentions to do exactly that, eventually rerouting transmission lines to Russia and charging Ukraine for the energy the plant produces.