* Ukraine has 15 nuclear power reactors operating
* Kiev says it is stepping up security of the plants
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, March 5 Russia accused Ukraine of
"hallucinating" on Wednesday after Kiev warned a U.N. atomic
agency meeting of risks to the safety of its nuclear power
plants in case of a Russian invasion, diplomats said.
Envoys of the two neighbours engaged in a fiery verbal
exchange during a session of the 35-nation governing board of
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a U.N. body,
diplomats who attended the closed-door discussions said.
In the wider dispute, Russia rebuffed Western demands to
withdraw forces in Ukraine's Crimea region to their bases amid a
day of high-stakes diplomacy in Paris aimed at easing tensions
over Ukraine and averting any war.
At the IAEA meeting in Vienna, which also discussed Iran and
other issues, Ukraine spoke of the security of its nuclear power
plants, highlighting possible environmental consequences if they
were caught up in a military conflict.
Ukraine's envoy to the IAEA, Ihor Prokopchuk, said the
"physical protection" of its 15 nuclear power reactors "can be
endangered," according to one diplomat who was in the room.
"Potential consequences of a military invasion would be a
threat of radiation contamination on the territory of Ukraine
and the territory of neighbouring states," Prokopchuk said.
"In addition, a significant amount of the spent nuclear
fuel, which is stored on the territory of the nuclear power
plants, would pose potential high risks," he said.
Russia's representative on the board, Grigory Berdennikov,
reacted angrily, saying the remarks were "nothing but a
provocation" and that Ukraine was conducting "malicious
Ukraine is "hallucinating about phantom dangers from
outside," the diplomat quoted the Russian envoy as saying.
Another diplomat confirmed the "hallucinating" quote.
Neither Russian nor Ukrainian diplomats were immediately
available for comment.
In the same debate, the U.S. envoy to the IAEA said his
country was "very much aware of the potential consequences
should sabotage or an attack occur at a nuclear power plant".
"We reiterate the importance that all member states in their
actions contribute to a strong nuclear security environment
worldwide and avoid actions to destabilise it," U.S. Ambassador
Joseph Macmanus said, according to a copy of his speech.
Ukraine's 15 nuclear power reactors accounted for nearly 44
percent of its electricity production in 2013.
In a letter to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on
Tuesday, Prokopchuk said Ukraine was reinforcing the protection
of its nuclear plants because the Russian military posed "a
grave threat to the security" of his country.
On Sunday, Ukraine's parliament called for international
monitors to help protect its nuclear power plants.
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)