Zelenskiy tells IAEA's Grossi: Russia must leave Zaporizhzhia plant

IAEA Director General Grossi meets Ukraine's President Zelenskiy in Zaporizhzhia
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visit Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine March 27, 2023. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

March 27 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency on Monday that safety at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station could not be guaranteed until Russian troops left the facility.

The president, quoted by his website, said he met Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, at the Dnipro hydroelectric power station - northeast of the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Russian troops occupied the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe's largest nuclear power station, in the early weeks of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and each side has repeatedly accused the other of shelling the facility.

Zelenskiy was quoted as telling Grossi that staff at the Zaporizhzhia plant were under constant pressure from Russian occupying forces, who he said were failing to uphold safety rules and interfering in technological processes.

"Without an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and staff from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and adjacent areas, any initiatives on restoring nuclear safety and security are doomed to failure," the presidential website quoted Zelenskiy as saying.

In later comments in his nightly video address to Ukrainians, Zelenskiy decried the year-long Russian presence at the plant as "radiation blackmail" and the worst incident to occur in the history of nuclear power.

"No other terrorist has plumbed such depths with the cynicism that Russia constantly achieves, always reaching new lows," Zelenskiy said.

"Holding a nuclear power station hostage for more than a year -- this is surely the worst thing that has every happened in the history of European or world-wide nuclear power."

The longer the Russian occupation of the plant continues, he said, "the greater will be the threat to the security of Ukraine, all of Europe and the world".

According to the account of Zelenskiy's meeting with Grossi, the Ukrainian president also outlined the problems caused by Russian attacks at the Dnipro hydro plant.

Grossi's role in upholding energy security in Ukraine, he said, was "extraordinarily important".

Zelenskiy met troops in southeastern Ukraine during a tour of the region. His website said he also visited the town of Nikopol, on the opposite side of the Kakhovka reservoir from the Zaporizhzhia power station and subject to repeated Russian shelling.

In a tweet issued earlier on Monday, Grossi said he and Zelenskiy had a "rich exchange" on the protection of the plant and its staff. He added that he reiterated the IAEA's full support for Ukraine's nuclear facilities.

Grossi has repeatedly called for a safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia plant and is due to visit it again this week.

Writing by Rachel More and Ron Popeski; Editing by Matthias Williams, Alison Williams and Cynthia Osterman

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