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IAEA: Chernobyl nuclear plant halted safety repairs, maintenance due to 'fatigue'

IAEA: Chernobyl nuclear plant halted safety repairs, maintenance due to 'fatigue'
Staff at the Chernobyl nuclear plant have stopped repairing and maintaining safety-related equipment in part due to "physical and psychological fatigue" from working non-stop since Russian forces invaded on Feb. 24. File Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE

March 13 (UPI) -- Ukraine's nuclear regulator on Sunday said that staff at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were no longer repairing and maintaining safety-related equipment after working non-stop for nearly three weeks.

The regulator told the International Atomic Energy Agency that the staff of 211 technical personnel and guards had still not been able to rotate since Russian forces entered the site at the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.

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The United Nation's nuclear watchdog said the stoppage was "in part due to their physical and psychological fatigue" as a result of the continued work.

The IAEA also said the head of Ukraine's nuclear power company, Energoatom, said specialists had fixed one of two damaged lines to allow offsite power to be delivered to the plant.

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Ukraine's regulators had lost communication with the site after heavy Russian shelling cut all external power to the plant.

"This is a positive development as the Chernobyl NPP has had to rely on emergency diesel generators for several days now," IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said. "However, I remain gravely concerned about safety and security at Chernobyl and Ukraine's other nuclear facilities."

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The Ukrainian regulator also said it was closely monitoring the Chernobyl plant's exclusion zone ahead of the annual "fire season" during which fires occur spontaneously in the area which is still contaminated by radioactive material from the 1986 nuclear incident.

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Additionally, the regulator said that two of the four offsite power lines at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant had been damaged and that its needs could be provided with one power line available as well as diesel generators to provide backup power

IAEA also said staff at Zaporizhzhia continued to carry out their day-to-day work while its management remains under the control of Russian forces which has been under control of Russian forces since March 4 when Russian shelling caused a fire at the facility.

Grossi said he has proposed a framework based on the seven indispensable pillars for nuclear safety that would allow the IAEA to deliver technical and other assistance to Chernobyl and Ukraine's other nuclear plants.

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"We can't afford to lose more time. The IAEA stands ready to act immediately, based on our proposed framework that requires agreement from the parties of the conflict before it can be implemented," Grossi said. "We can only provide assistance to Ukraine's nuclear sites once it has been signed. I'm doing everything I can to make this happen very soon."

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