UN Watchdog Warns of Potential 'Nuclear Catastrophe' if Fighting Continues Around Ukrainian Power Plant
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A surprise offensive is helping Ukraine gain ground against the Russian invasion, but with this new military momentum, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe sits directly in the line of fire.
A team of United Nations inspectors braved the war zone last week to tour the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. They came back with a warning for both sides: stand down, or risk nuclear catastrophe.
"We are playing with fire and something very, very catastrophic could take place," Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a speech Tuesday to the U.N.
Grossi said the physical integrity of the facility has been compromised by continued artillery shelling around the plant.
"The physical attacks, wittingly or unwittingly, the hits that this facility has received and that I could personally see and assess together with my experts is simply unacceptable," he said.
Twice in just the last few weeks, the plant has been knocked offline and forced to rely on backup generators to run its safety systems.
The IAEA is now calling on Russia and Ukraine to immediately stop all military operations in the area and establish a nuclear safe zone.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he would support a demilitarized protection zone, but added, that the Russians must be forced to return full control of the plant back to Ukraine.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Zelenskyy claimed Russia is using the facility as a weapon.
"You see they occupied our nuclear station, six blocks. The biggest in the Europe. It means six Chernobyl's, it means the biggest danger in Europe. So they occupied it. So that is-- means that they use nuclear weapon. That is nuclear weapon," Zelenskyy told ABC's David Muir.
Zelenskyy says the Kremlin ultimately wants to move the plant from Ukraine's power grid to Russia's.
Moscow, meanwhile, says Ukraine is responsible for putting the Zaporizhzhian facility at risk and wants more information on the IAEA report, saying there are a number of "issues" with it.
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