1 of 2 | The Group of Seven nations on Wednesday demanded Russia return control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine, to Kyiv. Photo by Russian Emergencies Ministry/EPA-EFE
Aug. 10 (UPI) -- The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations on Wednesday demanded that Russia return control of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and all other nuclear facilities within its borders to Kyiv to ensure their safe operation.
The G7 countries issued the demand Tuesday amid mounting fears over the safety of Europe's largest nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine that has been occupied by Russian forces since early in the five-month war and besieged by fighting in the region.
"We demand that Russia immediately hand back full control to its rightful sovereign owner, Ukraine, of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as well as all nuclear facilities within Ukraine's internationally recognized borders to ensure their safe and secure operations," they said in a statement.
The countries added that while under Russian control, Ukrainian staff operating the plant "must be able to carry out their duties without threats or pressures. "
"It is Russia's continued control of the plant that endangers the region," they said.
Some 500 Russian soldiers are utilizing the facility as a base though it is still run by Ukrainian employees, and it has repeatedly come under shelling, causing damage.
On Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was informed by Ukraine that shelling had damaged the plant's external power supply system. On Saturday, shelling injured one employee and damaged three radiation monitoring detectors.
Ukraine's nuclear energy company Enerhoatom said "nuclear catastrophe" had been "miraculously avoided," in Saturday's attack, which it said had targeted 174 casks containing spent nuclear fuel stored at the site.
Enerhoatom has repeatedly referred to Russia as nuclear terrorists and on Monday warned in a statement that the Kremlin was openly blackmailing the world.
The company quoted Russian major general Valeriy Vasyliev saying the plant had been mined and that if the facility did not belong to Russia it would belong to no one.
"We warned them," Vasyliev is quoted as saying. "We are ready for the consequences of this step."
Russia has, in turn, blamed Ukraine for the attacks on the plant and labeled allegations its forces were behind them a "disinformation campaign" led by U.S. media.
The seven wealthy nations reiterated their profound concern over "the serious threat" that Russia's seizure of Ukrainian nuclear facilities poses as its occupation significantly raises the risk of a nuclear accident or incident.
"It also undermines the IAEA's ability to monitor Ukraine's peaceful nuclear activities for safeguarding purposes," they said.
IAEA Direct General Rafael Mariano Grossi has said his repeated calls have not been answered to allow him to send a mission of safety, security and safeguards experts to the plant and that the seven safety pillars he outlined for the facility after the war broke out have been compromised in the past few months with several being completely violated in the last week.
Grossi said he is to brief the United Nations Security Council on the situation at the plant Thursday as well as his effort to lead a mission to the site as soon as possible.
"An accident at this plant could threaten public health and the environment both in Ukraine and neighboring countries, as well as further away," he said in a statement Wednesday. "Now more than ever, the IAEA's presence at the plant is of paramount importance to help reduce the danger of a possible nuclear disaster there."
Russia has also blamed Ukraine for preventing an IAEA mission to visit the site.
Mikhail Ulyanov, Moscow's permanent representative to the International Organizations in Vienna, told Russia's state-owned news agency TASS that in order for such a mission to occur, "proper ability to cooperate is needed on the Ukrainian part.
Kyiv "should not create artificial obstacles and difficulties for the agency in organizing such a visit," Ulyanov said.