THE HAGUE – Inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency are used to risky missions – from the radioactive aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster to Iran’s politically charged nuclear program. But her Used in the war in Ukraine to Zaporizhzhia raises the threat to a new level and underscores the efforts the organization will make to avert a potentially catastrophic nuclear disaster.
That 6 months war triggered by Russia’s invasion of its western neighbor, is forcing international organizations, not just the IAEA, to deploy teams during active hostilities to bring order to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, prosecute responsibility for war crimes and identify the dead.
“This is not the first time that an IAEA team has found itself in a situation of armed hostilities,” said Tariq Rauf, the organization’s former head of verification and security, noting that the IAEA sent inspectors to Iraq and Iraq in 2003 sent by the former Soviet republic of Georgia during the fighting. “But this situation in Zaporizhzhia, I think it’s the most serious situation the IAEA has ever sent people to, so it’s unprecedented.”
IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi pointed out the risks on Thursday as he led a team to the sprawling facility in southern Ukraine.
“There were moments when fire was obvious — heavy machine guns, artillery, mortars two or three times was really very concerning, I would say, for all of us,” he said of his team’s journey through an active war zone to find the to reach plant.
Speaking to reporters after leaving colleagues inside, he said the agency would “stay away from the factory” from now on and vowed a “continued presence” of agency experts.
But it remains to be seen what exactly the organization can achieve.
“The IAEA cannot force a country to adopt or enforce nuclear safety standards,” Rauf said in a phone interview. “You can only advise, and then it’s up to … the state itself,” specifically the national nuclear regulator. In Ukraine, this is made even more complicated by the Russian occupation of the power plant.
The IAEA is not the only international organization trying to permanently station personnel in Ukraine amid the ongoing war.
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan has visited Ukraine three times, set up an office in the country and dispatched investigators to a conflict zone to collect evidence amid widespread reports of atrocities. National governments, including the Netherlands, have sent experienced investigators to assist the court.
Khan told a United Nations meeting in April: “This is a time when we need to mobilize the law and send it into battle, not on the side of Ukraine against the Russian Federation or on the side of the Russian Federation against Ukraine , but further the side of humanity to protect, preserve, protect human beings… who have certain fundamental rights.”
The International Commission on Missing Persons, which uses a high-tech laboratory in The Hague to help countries identify bodies, has already sent three missions to Ukraine and set up an office there.
Grossi, an Argentine diplomat, was previously a senior official at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an organization which after he left was also forced to send inspectors into conflicts.
In April 2018, an OPCW team dispatched to gather evidence of a suspected chlorine attack in Douma, Syria, was kept waiting for days in a hotel due to security concerns in the city, which was then under the protection of Russian military police .
When a UN security team visited Douma, Gunmen shot at them and detonated an explosive devicefurther delaying the OPCW fact-finding mission.
The IAEA’s largest operation overseeing a country’s nuclear program is Iran, where it has been the primary arbiter in determining the scope, scope and aspects of Tehran’s program throughout decades of tension. Since Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the IAEA has had surveillance cameras and physical inspections at Iranian sites, even as questions remain about Iran’s military nuclear program, which the agency said ended in 2003.
But this surveillance was not easy. Since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal in 2018, Iran has blocked the IAEA from accessing footage from its surveillance cameras. Other online surveillance devices are also affected.
In 2019, Iran claimed an IAEA inspector tested positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates while attempting to visit Iran’s underground nuclear facility at Natanz. The IAEA sharply rejected Iran’s description of the incident, as did the US
Another risky and challenging mission took place after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. About two weeks after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused reactor meltdowns and hydrogen explosions in reactor buildings, the IAEA dispatched experts to monitor radiation, take soil samples, and check food safety, but they mostly stayed outside the facility . They later returned in hazmat suits, masks, gloves and helmets to inspect the remains of the affected facility at Fukushima Daiichi.
The situation in Zaporizhia, where Russia and Ukraine are exchanging accusations of shelling the area, has the potential to be just as devastating.
“Any time a nuclear power plant finds itself in the midst of armed hostilities, shelling on its territory and nearby poses unacceptable risks,” Rauf said. “Well, you know, any misfired shell could hit one of the reactors or disable a system, which could lead to much bigger consequences.”
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/09/03/iaea-visit-to-ukraine-nuclear-plant-highlights-risks/ IAEA visit to nuclear power plant in Ukraine reveals risks