Russia, IAEA hope to make progress on Zaporizhzhia nuclear safety zone

A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside Enerhodar
A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, including its Units No. 5 and 6, in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict outside the city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region. November 24, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo

Feb 9 (Reuters) - Russia and the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog on Thursday said they hoped to make progress on creating a safety zone around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has come under repeated shelling over the past months.

Alexei Likhachev, head of state nuclear firm Rosatom, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Rafael Grossi made the comments after meeting in Moscow.

The IAEA wants a safety zone around the plant, to prevent heavy weapons and shelling from causing further damage.

The nuclear power plant - the largest of its kind in Europe - was seized by Russian forces shortly after they invaded Ukraine last year. Moscow and Kyiv trade blame for the shelling and accuse each other of risking a nuclear accident.

"It may be that the result of these very important talks today will give us a chance to get a step closer to creating a safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station," Likhachev said after the meeting as he stood next to Grossi. Rosatom released a video of the two men's comments.

Grossi - who is due to continue talks with Russian officials on Friday - reiterated his concerns about safety at the plant, saying the situation was "very fragile, very precarious".

The sounds of loud shelling meant a scheduled rotation of IAEA experts at the plant had not taken place as scheduled on Thursday, he said.

"All of this says to us that we cannot lose any more time, that we need to make concrete progress. I hope to be able to do that, to continue this work tomorrow," he said.

The plant accounted for around 20% of Ukraine's national power generation before the invasion, but has not produced any electricity since September when the last of its six reactors was put offline.

After it was seized by Russian troops, Rosatom took control of it and installed its own management, a move that Kyiv has denounced as illegal.

Reporting by Caleb Davis and David Ljunggren Editing by Gareth Jones, Alexandra Hudson

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