KYIV, Nov 27 (Reuters) – The head of Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear energy company said on Sunday there were signs Russian forces may be preparing to leave the massive Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant they seized in March shortly after their invasion.
Such a move would be a major change on the battlefield in the partially occupied southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia, where the frontline has barely moved for months. The repeated bombardments around the plant raised fears of a nuclear disaster.
“In recent weeks, we are indeed receiving reports that signs have emerged that they may be preparing to leave (the factory),” Petro Kotin, director of Energoatom, told national television.
“Firstly, there are a huge number of reports in the Russian media that it would be worth leaving (the plant) and perhaps handing over control to (the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA),” he said, referring to the United Nations nuclear watchdog. “It looks like they’re packing up and stealing everything they can.”
Russia and Ukraine, which were the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, have for months repeatedly accused each other of bombing the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex, which no longer produces energy .
Asked if it was too early to talk about the departure of Russian troops from the factory, Kotin said on television: “It’s too early. We don’t see it now, but they are preparing ( from).”
“All (Ukrainian) personnel are prohibited from passing through checkpoints and entering (controlled) Ukrainian territory.”
The head of the IAEA met a Russian delegation in Istanbul on November 23 to discuss the establishment of a protection zone around the plant, the largest in Europe, in order to avoid a nuclear disaster. Zaporizhzhia supplied about a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity.
Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov a day after the meeting as saying a decision on a protection zone should be made “rather quickly”.
Ukraine this month recaptured the southern city of Kherson and a piece of land on the right bank of the Dnipro in the Kherson region that lies east of Zaporizhzhia province.
On Friday, the UN’s nuclear watchdog said Ukraine’s three nuclear power plants in government-controlled territory had been reconnected to the grid, two days after a barrage of Russian missiles forced them to close for the first time in 40 years.
Reporting by Felix Hoske and Pavel Polityuk; Written by Tom Balmforth; edited by
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.