Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), delivered a speech to the United Nations on Tuesday outlining his agency’s report on significant damage at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant since the start of Russia’s invasion.
“The first important safety pillar that exists in any nuclear facility is not to violate its physical integrity,” Grossi said Tuesday. “And unfortunately…this has happened. This happened and this continues to happen. The physical attack, 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.”
Grossi added, “We are playing with fire and something very, very catastrophic could take place.
Grossi’s remarks come the same day the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, released a report documenting damages at the plant that have been inflicted since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine.
“The team closely witnessed shelling in the vicinity of the ZNPP, in particular on 3 Sept. when the team was instructed to evacuate to the ground level of the Administrative Building,” Grossi said in the report. “Moreover, the team observed damage at different locations caused by reported events with some of the damage being close to the reactor buildings.”
The ZNPP has seen repeated damage caused by shelling that has hit the plant’s power lines connecting it to Ukraine’s electrical grid, as well as weakening its structural integrity.
In his report, Grossi detailed several events that have “significantly compromised” the plant’s “Seven Pillars” – a standard by which the IAEA bases its security guidelines – since the ZNPP was first occupied in early March by Russian forces.
The IAEA chief laid out a litany of concerns relating to damages inflicted on the plant’s electrical system, harm caused to the Central Alarm Station and damage inflicted on a container where the radiation monitoring system is located.
The IAEA report also “noted with concern that the shelling could have impacted safety related structures, systems and components, and could have caused safety significant impacts, loss of lives and personnel injuries.”
Both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of targeting the nuclear power plant, though the IAEA report did not clarify who is responsible for the attacks on the ZNPP.
The IAEA also said the staff is not being given unrestricted access to some parts of the plant and must get permission from the Russian occupying forces to reach the cooling ponds where spent fuel is kept. Grossi expressed concern that that could hamper the staff’s response in an emergency.
The U.N. atomic watchdog agency urged Russia and Ukraine to establish a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” in order to mitigate further damage.
“We can agree on a very simple but incredibly necessary protective mechanism to avoid what is happening now as we speak, which is the shelling of a nuclear power plant,” Grossi said Tuesday. “Let’s seize this opportunity so fundamental for peace, for security, and to protect the populations of Ukraine and beyond.”
Fox News’ Caitlin McFall and The Associated Press contributed to this report