IAEA's Grossi hails Ukraine restoration of power to key nuclear plant

IAEA Director General Grossi speaks with journalists in central Kyiv
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks with journalists amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in central Kyiv, Ukraine October 13, 2022. REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko/File Photo

Oct 14 (Reuters) - Ukrainian engineers have restored "much needed" back-up power to a key Russian-occupied nuclear power plant after shelling robbed it of access to external electricity twice in the past week, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the operating staff at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, "working in very challenging conditions," were doing everything they could to bolster the plant's off-site power, essential for ensuring nuclear safety.

"Restoring the back-up power connection is a positive step in this regard, even though the overall nuclear safety and security situation remains precarious," Grossi said in a statement released at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

He said an IAEA team at the site had reported back that two back-up power lines connecting the plant to switchyards at a nearby thermal power plant had been repaired in recent days. And on Friday, an external line connecting a thermal power plant switchyard to the electrical grid was also restored.

Zaporizhzhia is one of four Ukrainian regions Russia has proclaimed as annexed but only partly occupies. This week Grossi shuttled from Moscow to Kyiv in an effort to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the site.

Grossi said having back-up, off-site electricity supplied through the thermal power plant switchyard gives Zaporizhzhia a buffer in the event its last remaining operating 750 kilovolt (kV) power line were cut again.

When the high-voltage line was cut last Saturday and on Wednesday because of shelling, he added, "the plant had to rely on its emergency diesel generators for electricity until the line was restored".

Concerns have mounted since August about the risks of shelling at or near Zaporizhzhia, Europe's largest nuclear power station. Grossi noted there had been little shelling in the vicinity of the plant in recent days, though two landmine explosions occurred at the perimeter fence on Friday.

He said he had raised concerns in Russia and Ukraine about "increasingly difficult" work conditions for the plant's Ukrainian staff.

They were facing "unacceptable pressure" due to demands to sign a new contract with Russian state company Rosatom, he said, while Ukrainian operator Energoatom was urging them not to and to follow its instructions.

"I made clear that the staff must be allowed to carry out their vital tasks without undue interference or pressure," the statement quoted him as saying.

Reporting by Elaine Monaghan and Ron Popeski Editing by Marguerita Choy

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