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U.N. Security Council members raise alarm of nuclear risks following attack on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant

Smoke billows from a building at the entrance to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, after attacks by invading Russian forces started a fire at a training area, in Enerhodar, Ukraine on March 4, 2022 in this still image obtained from video. Photo: State Emergency Services of Ukraine via Reuters

Smoke billows from a building at the entrance to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, after attacks by invading Russian forces started a fire at a training area, in Enerhodar, Ukraine on March 4, 2022 in this still image obtained from video. Photo: State Emergency Services of Ukraine via Reuters

United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members expressed alarm at the prospect of a nuclear incident in Ukraine, at an emergency meeting on Friday, convened hours after a training building at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant caught fire, as Russians moved in on the facility and seized control of it. The International Atomic Energy (IAEA) chief told the Council that no reactors had been damaged.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said after the attack on the power plant that he would call for a UNSC meeting. Several western countries, including the U.S. and the U.K, spoke out against Russia for endangering nuclear facilities, while others — including India and China — more generally expressed alarm about the situation without blaming anyone in particular.

“No security or safety systems have been compromised, ” said Director General of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, based on information received via the agency’s contacts as well as directly from the power plant. Mr. Grossi, who joined the Council meeting via video link, from onboard a flight to Tehran, reactors were hit by the projectile which hit the training building. He expressed his willingness to travel to Chernobyl to establish a “stable framework” for the governance of the nuclear power plant. The plant was taken over by Russian forces last week — although it is still being run by Ukrainians.

During his remarks, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UNPR) T.S. Tirumurti warned of the danger a nuclear incident.

“India attaches the highest importance to ensuring safety and security of nuclear facilities, as any accident involving the nuclear facilities may have severe consequences for public health and the environment,” Mr. Tirumurti said. He also emphasised that a humanitarian crisis was confronting Ukraine. India has been concerned about the lives of several thousand of its nationals caught in the conflict.

Mr. Tirumurti reiterated India’s position — calling for a resolution of differences through dialogue and respect for the U.N. Charter and sovereignty of nations.

U.A.E. UNPR Lana Nusseibeh said there would be grave consequences for generations if an accident was to happen, either due to an attack on a facility or as a consequence of fighting. The UAE holds the Security Council presidency for March and, after abstentions at the Security Council, voted to support a General Assembly resolution on Wednesday that condemned Russia.

At Friday’s meeting, the U.S. condemned Russia and called for the cessation of the war. “By the grace of God, the world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night,” the U.S.’s UNPR Linda Thomas Greenfield said.

“Mr. Putin must stop this madness and he must stop it now,” she said, warning that the Russians were closing in on the country’s second largest nuclear plant.

“So this imminent danger continues,” she said.

“Russia must keep fighting away from and protect the safety and security of nuclear sites,” Britain’s representative, Barbara Woodward said.

The Russian Defence Ministry had blamed Ukrainians for the fire at Zaporizhzhia and Russia’s representative Vasilly Nebenzya and his Ukrainian counterpart Sergiy Kyslytsya traded charges on who was responsible.

“Together with the people of Belarus and Ukraine, we lived through the tragedy of Chernobyl, and so we are more interested than most in maintaining a normal radiation situation throughout the territory of Ukraine,” Russia’s representative Vassily Nebenzya said.

He also accused Ukrainian “nationalists” of holding foreign students — Indian, Chinese and Ghanaian nationals — hostage in the cities of Kharkiv and Sumy. On Thursday, the Ministry of External Affairs had said it was not aware of its citizens being held hostage by Ukraine and used as “human shields” as Russia had alleged.

During his speech Mr. Kyslytsya asked Mr. Nebenzya to appeal to Russian forces to allow a safe corridor for foreign students to pass. He also accused Russia of shelling civilian areas. He listed the damage caused to the nuclear power plant and said personnel had not been rotated, i.e., let off their shift, since Thursday morning. (Ukrainians continue to man the plant, following their capture by Russian forces). Mr. kyslytsya asked the Security Council to discuss a ban on all flights over Ukrainian airspace. On Friday, NATO rejected Ukraine’s appeals for a ‘no fly zone’ over its airspace.

Quoting Albert Einstein as saying, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything,” Mr. Kyslysta appeared to take a shot at those who did not condemn Russia in recent days.

“Shamefully, there is a handful of those around us... or among us, rather,... who do nothing,” Mr. Kyslytsya said, presumably a reference to India and others who have consistently abstained during U.N. votes on the issue.


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 9:52:29 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/un-security-council-meets-to-discuss-zaporizhzhia-nuclear-plant-fire/article65191581.ece