The head of the United Nations’ atomic watchdog expressed astonishment on Thursday about international complacency over safety at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, where several hours earlier Russian shelling had again cut power to the plant and left workers resorting to using backup generators to maintain safety.
It was the sixth time the Zaporizhzhia facility, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, needed to move to its emergency power supply since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago, according to Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. watchdog. He described the use of generators there as the “last line of defense” against a possible nuclear accident.
In a fiery statement to the agency’s board of governors on Thursday, Mr. Grossi urged immediate action to restore security at the plant, which Russian forces occupied shortly after invading the country a year ago.
“What are we doing?” he said, according to the agency. “How can we sit here in this room this morning and allow this to happen? This cannot go on.” He added, “I am astonished by the complacency.”
“Each time, we are rolling a dice,” Mr. Grossi said, “and if we allow this to continue time after time, then one day our luck will run out.”
The board, which decides policy for the organization, is made up of 35 member states including Russia, according to the agency’s website.
Russian shelling early Thursday cut the external power lines that supply electricity to the plant’s six reactors, according to Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom. The company said the plant had a supply of diesel to power the generators for 10 days, although the I.A.E.A., which has stationed inspectors at the plant, said there was enough fuel for 15 days.
Bringing additional diesel supplies across the front line in the southern Zaporizhzhia region is extremely difficult, and Energoatom warned of the danger of not having enough power for the facility, whose equipment to prevent a radiation leak requires a constant source of fuel, even with all of the reactors offline.
“If it is impossible to renew the external power supply of the station during this time, an accident with radiation consequences for the whole world may occur,” the company said on Telegram.
External power to the plant was last cut off in November, Mr. Grossi said. Each time the power source to the plant has been severed, engineers have raced to make repairs before the plant’s 18 diesel generators run out of fuel. International nuclear inspectors have repeatedly called the situation unsustainable and precarious.
The U.N. atomic agency has spent months trying to forge an agreement between Moscow and Kyiv to establish a safety and security zone around the plant. But Ukraine’s energy minister said this week that talks were at a dead end because Russia had refused his government’s demand to withdraw from the plant and hand control of it back to Energoatom. Moscow has placed the plant under the control of its own state nuclear company, Rosatom.
The predawn shelling on Thursday came as Russia launched missile and drone attacks across Ukraine as part of a monthslong campaign to damage the country’s power infrastructure.
Since Moscow’s troops began occupying the Zaporizhzhia facility, it has been hit by rocket fire, which at one point damaged an area where spent nuclear fuel is stored. There have also been multiple reports of shells landing in and near the plant’s grounds. Russian forces have also set up machine-gun posts at the plant, Energoatom said this week.
The Ukrainian authorities say that some of the Ukrainian workers who remain there have been interrogated and that at least one had been killed by Russian forces.