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U.N. inspectors arrive to examine at-risk nuclear power plant in south Ukraine

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi (C) is seen Wednesday with other IAEA members as they depart a hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine, to visit and inspect the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi (C) is seen Wednesday with other IAEA members as they depart a hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine, to visit and inspect the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE

Aug. 31 (UPI) -- United Nations inspectors traveled to a troubled nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday to examine the facility and determine if it's safely operating amid constant fighting in the areas around it.

Inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency have prepared for days to inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after many weeks of Russian control and damage that's been inflicted by the fighting.

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The inspectors left Kyiv and arrived in Zaporizhzhia later Wednesday. They are expected to start the inspections on Thursday.

In addition to checking safety systems and looking for serious damage, the team of inspectors will also speak with Ukrainian workers who operate the plant. There have been reports that they sometimes are harassed or targeted by Russian troops at the plant.

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Last week, the facility -- which is the largest nuclear power station in Europe -- was knocked off the main power grid when fighting in the area clipped a main transmission line. The situation posed a serious risk until the line was repaired and the grid connection restored.

The Zaporizhzhia plant is on the banks of the Dnipro River in southeastern Ukraine about 300 miles southeast of Kyiv.

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The inspection mission is unlike anything the IAEA inspectors have encountered before. For one thing, they are going into a war zone and are in dangerous territory as long as they're in Ukraine. Officials said the inspectors will remain near the plant for several days.

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"We are going to a war zone. We are going to occupied territory," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said before the team departed, according to The Guardian.

"And this requires explicit guarantees from not only from the Russians but also from the Republic of Ukraine."

Meanwhile, heavy fighting was reported around Ukraine's southern Kherson region on Wednesday. Kherson was captured by Russian forces early in the war, but Ukrainian resistance have been looking to retake the area and launched a counteroffensive there last week.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised to regain control of Kherson, which is also located on the Dnipro River southeast of Kyiv. Kherson is about 150 miles southwest of the Zaporizhzhia plant.

"Ukrainian armored forces have continued to assault Russia's Southern Grouping of Forces on several axes across the south of the country since Monday," Britain's Defense Ministry said in a statement. "Ukrainian formations have pushed the front line back some distance in places, exploiting relatively thinly held Russian defenses."

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Kherson leader Kirill Stremousov, who was installed by Moscow, said he's left the area and traveled to Russia to "meet people for work."

Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces recaptured the town of Pravdyne in the region, but Novodmytrivka and Tomyna Balka are still contested. Ukrainian officials said that strikes hit Russian staging areas and key supply routes in Kherson and nearby Nova Kakhovka, keeping Russia from making immediate reinforcements.

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