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Chinese envoy addresses risks at Ukraine nuclear facilities

By MINLU ZHANG at the United Nations | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-12 09:04

A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine Aug 4, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

A Chinese ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday reiterated his concerns over the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine, calling for efforts to minimize the possibility of the leakage of radioactive materials.

"China has been closely following the issue of the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine and is deeply concerned by the recent shelling on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the UN, said at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Zhang said according to the information obtained by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from Ukraine's nuclear regulator, the shelling did not pose an immediate threat to nuclear safety, and the radiation level remained normal.

"Nevertheless, the shelling did cause damage to the physical integrity of the plant, its safety and security system, power supply and personnel safety, which sounded a nuclear alarm to the international community," he said.

Ukraine and Russia have exchanged accusations over strikes on the plant in southern Ukraine, which is one of the largest atomic power complexes in Europe and generates a quarter of Ukraine's electricity. It has been under the control of Russian forces since March and has been the scene of military strikes in recent days.

"The safety and security of nuclear sites must not be subjected to trial and error," said Zhang. If a large-scale accident were to occur at Zaporizhzhia, the consequences would be even more devastating than that of the Fukushima nuclear accident, according to Zhang.

The leakage of massive quantities of radioactive materials caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the resulting nuclear-contaminated water have far-reaching consequences for the marine environment, food safety and human health, thereby sparking widespread concern, he said. "China does not want to see the same risks playing out again."

"We call on the parties concerned to exercise restraint, act with caution, refrain from any action that may compromise nuclear safety and security, and spare no effort to minimize the possibility of accidents," the envoy said.

"China always supposes the IAEA's active role in promoting nuclear safety and security and performing its safeguard duties in strict accordance with its mandate," said Zhang.

In Thursday's meeting, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the IAEA called for a cessation of military activity around the plant. He referred to the situation as "a grave hour" and said that IAEA inspectors must be allowed to examine the complex "as soon as possible".

Zhang said he hopes the existing obstacles can be cleared as soon as possible for Grossi and the IAEA team of experts to visit the Zaporizhzhia plant and that they will be able to conduct their work without impediment.

The security risks posed by the conflict to nuclear facilities are looming large throughout the Ukraine crisis, said Zhang. "Only by defusing the situation and restoring peace at an early date, can we fundamentally remove nuclear risks, reduce misjudgment, and avoid accidents.

"Once again, we call on all parties concerned to resume negotiations as early as possible, seek a solution to the Ukraine crisis in a cool-headed and rational fashion, address each other's legitimate security concerns, and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture, so as to achieve common security," he said.

As shelling continued near the site, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday said he was "gravely concerned" the hostilities might lead to a disaster.

"I have appealed to all concerned to exercise common sense and reason and not to undertake any actions that might endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the nuclear plant," he said in a statement.