IAEA inspectors visit Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant despite shelling

Most of the international team of nuclear experts visiting the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday have left, after overcoming initial challenges in reaching the facility, including an hours-long delay and a drive through an active war zone.

The visit by the team of 14 experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including its chief Rafael Grossi, came at a crucial moment for the plant, which has endured constant shelling and raised fears of a nuclear accident.

Their trip was mired in risk as shelling had broken out on Thursday, with both Russian and Ukrainian officials confirming that the nearby city of Enerhodar had endured a morning of bombardment.

Mortar shelling by Russians forced one of the the plant’s two working reactors to shut down on the same day, Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said Thursday, while Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of shelling the IAEA mission’s pre-agreed route to the plant.

Grossi said that his team were determined to visit the plant, despite the bombardment. “Having come this far, I was not going to stop and with my courageous team we moved in. There were moments where fire was obvious,” he told reporters after the visit.

“Heavy machine gun artillery, mortars two or three times were really pretty concerning, I would say, for all of us. We had splendid support from the United Nations Security team that is here with me as well. So I think we showed that the international community is there, could be there — and we are continuing this,” he added.

Ongoing mission: The IAEA chief has now left the plant, however Grossi said the UN nuclear watchdog is “not going anywhere” and will have a “continued presence” there.

“We are not going anywhere. The IAEA is now there at the plant and it’s not moving. It’s going to stay there. We’re going to have a continued presence there at the plant,” he said.

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