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U.N. head calls for access to Ukraine's nuclear plant following attack

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Zaporizhzhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, was also set on fire after shelling by Russia on March 4. The fire was extinguished by state emergency service workers. Photo by Sergei Supinsky/EPA-EFE
Zaporizhzhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, was also set on fire after shelling by Russia on March 4. The fire was extinguished by state emergency service workers. Photo by Sergei Supinsky/EPA-EFE

Aug. 8 (UPI) -- United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for international inspectors to be allowed access to Ukraine's besieged Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant after Kyiv officials said it was damaged in Russian shelling.

During a trip to Japan to mark the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.N. head told reporters that any attack on Europe's largest nuclear power plant is "suicidal" and that he hoped shelling would soon cease.

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"At the same time, I hope that [International Atomic Energy Agency] will be able to have access to the plant and to exercise its mandated competencies," he said.

Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia power plant has been occupied by Russia for months and has been used a base for Kremlin forces.

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Ukraine's nuclear energy company Enerhoatom said in a statement that one employee was injured and three radiation monitoring detectors at the site were damaged in Russian shelling of the facility on Saturday.

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Enerhoatom said it believes the 174 casks, each containing 24 assemblies of spent nuclear fuel, that are stored on the site were targeted.

"This time a nuclear catastrophe was miraculously avoided, but miracles cannot last forever," it said. "The actions of Russian nuclear terrorists must be urgently put to an end in order to protect Ukraine and the world from a nuclear disaster."

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In response to the attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the international community to impose sanctions against Russia's nuclear industry and nuclear fuel.

In his nightly address on Sunday, he said he has already spoken with European Council President Charles Michel about the matter.

"There is no such nation in the world that can feel safe when a terrorist state fires at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," he said. "There is no such nation in the world that can feel safe when a terrorist state fires at a nuclear plant."

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Michel confirmed he spoke with Zelensky in a tweet, stating reports of the shelling were "alarming."

"Its safety is of the highest concern," he said.

Russia has blamed Ukraine for the attacks on the plant, calling allegations that Kremlin forces were behind it a "disinformation campaign" led by U.S. media.

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The Embassy of Russia in the United States in a statement blamed Ukrainian nationalists for the attack and said it was only due to the Russian military that the facility's critical infrastructure was protected.

"We call on the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency to condemn the criminal action of Kiev and take urgent measures to prevent provocations at radiation-hazardous facilities in Ukraine as well as American journalists to stop spreading Russophobic fabrications," it said, referring to the Ukraine capital Kyiv by its Soviet-era English spelling.

Following the attack on Saturday, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi again called for a mission of safety, security and safeguards experts to be allowed to enter the plant.

"That this vital mission has not yet happened is not because of the IAEA. Despite our determined efforts, it has not been possible so far. I will not give up. I will continue to push -- and push again -- for this IAEA mission to finally take place," he said in a statement.

The facility was previously damaged in early March when a fire broke out at the plant after facing artillery fire.

Early in the war, which began when Russian invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Grossi had outlined seven safety pillars for the plant, all of which he said have been compromised in the past few months with several being wholly violated in the last 24 hours.

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"This must stop and stop now," he said.

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