International nuclear inspectors reported significant damage from weekend shelling at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant but found key equipment intact and “no immediate nuclear safety or security concerns,” the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog said on Monday.
Even so, the scope of the damage “is a major cause of concern as it clearly demonstrates the sheer intensity of the attacks on one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement.
Russian forces have for months occupied the Zaporizhzhia complex — the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe — while Ukrainian engineers continue to run it. Intense shelling has repeatedly caused damage at the site, raising fears of a possible meltdown. The most disruptive strikes have damaged external power lines supplying the reactor cooling systems, forcing the plant’s operators to sometimes rely on diesel generators as a last resort.
Russia and Ukraine have each blamed the other for the attacks. They did the same on Monday, after a dozen shells exploded near the Zaporizhzhia complex over the weekend.
A team of four inspectors that visited the plant on Monday reported no new damage to the outside power lines, but observed fresh damage including to storage tanks and the main road running along the plant’s reactors, the I.A.E.A. said. As in past episodes of shelling on the plant, the agency made no mention of which country had been responsible.
Mr. Grossi has warned of the urgent need to safeguard complex. “Until we have this plant protected, the possibility of the nuclear catastrophe is there,” he said in an interview with CBS News on “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday.
In particular, Mr. Grossi cited the reliance on diesel generators as an unsustainable practice. “Because when your generators are out of whatever you put in it to make them work, then what happens? Then you have a meltdown.”
In October, Mr. Grossi spoke with both President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, hoping to get both sides to agree to establishing a demilitarized zone around Zaporizhzhia. He has been calling for similar measures since leading a team of inspectors to the facility in August. No agreement has been reached.
In his nightly address, Mr. Zelensky said he was working toward implementing an I.A.E.A request to “stop any hostile activity” against Ukrainian nuclear plants, but said the “demilitarization” of the plant was paramount in that effort. “Russia must withdraw all its militants from there and stop shelling the station,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, blamed Kyiv for the strikes, saying Ukraine continued to “play with fire,” according to the Russian state news outlet RIA.
In recent weeks, Russia has repeatedly targeted Ukrainian infrastructure, including an assault involving roughly 100 missiles last week that was one of the biggest and broadest attacks since the start of the war in February. Ukrainian forces shot down most of the missiles, but some still struck key energy infrastructure, plunging nearly a quarter of the country into darkness.
Before the war, nuclear plants supplied a large share of Ukraine’s power. In the past month Russia expanded its attacks on Ukrainian nuclear facilities, targeting the Khmelnytskyi plant in western Ukraine and forcing it to switch to diesel generators for several hours. A second nuclear power plant in the nearby province of Rivne was forced to reduce the energy it produced after power lines were damaged.
The reactors at the Zaporizhzhia power plant have been shut down since September as a safety measure. While a direct military strike on one of the reactor cores could still trigger an accident, the risk is greatly reduced if the plant is not in full operation.
Four of the complex’s six reactors are in cold shutdown, the I.A.E.A. said senior managers there had confirmed on Monday, and the other two are in “hot shutdown” — meaning they produce thermal energy but not electricity.
The thermal energy allows steam and hot water to be provided to the complex itself and to the nearby city of Enerhodar, where many of the plant’s workers live.