Ukraine atomic agency says Russian forces abducted two nuclear plant staff

KYIV, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Ukraine's atomic power agency accused Russian forces on Friday of abducting two senior Ukrainian staff at a Russian-occupied nuclear power station and detaining a third.

Energoatom said the two who were seized at the Zaporizhzhia plant in southeastern Ukraine were beaten before being driven off in an "unknown direction" on Thursday.

It said the third worker, who was detained, was responsible for safety at the plant, which was captured by Russian troops soon after their Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine but is still operated by Ukrainian staff.

Russia did not immediately comment on the allegations. Reuters was unable to verify them independently.

Kyiv has accused Russia of putting pressure on Ukrainian employees at the plant to sign contracts with Russia's nuclear energy company.

"Through such actions, the occupiers are trying to gain loyalty from the courageous pro-Ukrainian staff... Nevertheless, the invaders fail to do so because the personnel resist," it said in a statement.

Each side has accused the other of shelling the site of what is Europe's largest nuclear power plant, raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe more than three decades after the world's worst atomic accident at Chornobyl, also in Ukraine.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog, hopes to establish a safety zone around the nuclear power plant by the end of the year.

In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree transferring the plant and all Ukrainian employees from Energoatom to a subsidiary of Russia's state nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom. Kyiv said the transfer of assets amounted to theft.

Ukrainian officials have also said Moscow is using the site as a de facto weapons depot. Reuters has been unable to independently verify the allegations.

Reporting by Dan Peleschuk

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