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UN envoy airs Ukraine nuclear concerns

By MINLU ZHANG at the United Nations | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-13 07:30

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Energodar, Ukraine, as seen on March 8, has been subjected to shelling during the conflict. KONSTANTIN MIHALCHEVSKIY/SPUTNIK

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 that according to the information obtained by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, from Ukraine's nuclear regulator, the shelling did not pose an immediate threat to nuclear safety.

"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. The facility 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.

Ukraine's Energoatom agency said the complex was struck five times on Thursday, including near where radioactive materials are stored. Russian-appointed officials said Ukraine shelled the plant twice, disrupting a shift changeover, Russia's TASS news agency said.

"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 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, 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," the envoy said.

In Thursday's meeting, Rafael Grossi, the 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".

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

Agencies contributed to this story.

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