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Head of IAEA to visit Chernobyl, as Russians withdraw from the site

UN nuclear watchdog to head mission to Chernobyl as Russians withdraw from site

Russians leaving Chernobyl have taken Ukraine soldiers with them, say officials   https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/01/russians-fled-chernobyl-with-radiation-sickness-says-ukraine-as-iaea-investigates      Jon Henley, Fri 1 Apr 2022 22

The head of the UN atomic watchdog has said he aims to lead a mission to Chernobyl as soon as possible, after Russian troops were reported to have largely withdrawn from the decommissioned nuclear power station.

Rafael Grossi tweeted on Friday that he would head an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “assistance and support” mission to the highly contaminated site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in the first of a series of such visits to Ukrainian nuclear plants.

The announcement came after Ukrainian officials said the Russian soldiers who had occupied the highly contaminated plant since 24 February – the first day of the invasion – had left taking several Ukrainian service personnel with them. Some Russians remained in the surrounding exclusion zone, they said.

The Ukrainian state power company Energoatom alleged that the pullout followed a number of Russian soldiers receiving “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone, a claim the IAEA said it could not independently confirm but would investigate.

Energoatom said the troops had “panicked at the first sign of illness”, which “showed up very quickly”. Chernobyl’s No 4 reactor exploded on 26 April 1986, killing hundreds and spreading radioactive contamination west across Europe.

The IAEA said earlier on Friday Kyiv had informed it that Russia had transferred control of the site back to the Ukrainians charged with overseeing the safe storage of spent fuel rods and maintaining the concrete-encased ruins of the reactor.

But the UN agency said it could not independently confirm the claim that the Russian soldiers, whose capture of the plant raised fears around the world of increased radiological risks, had been exposed to radiation.

Energoatom did not say how many soldiers were involved and gave no details of how they had been affected. The Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk also said Russian troops were exposed to radiation after digging trenches in the forest.

Some Ukrainian reports have suggested the soldiers were taken to a special medical facility in nearby Belarus after driving tanks through the exclusion zone, kicking up radioactive dust. The Kremlin has not commented on the claims.

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert with the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Associated Press on Friday it seemed unlikely a large number of troops would develop severe radiation illness, but added that it was impossible to know for sure without more details.

Citing plant workers, Energoatom said in a statement on Friday that the “Russian occupiers, as they ran away from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, took members of the national guard, whom they had held hostage since 24 February, with them”.

The Ukrainian government had repeatedly expressed safety concerns about Chernobyl and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Russian troops, whose presence prevented the normal rotation of personnel for several weeks.

Russian forces also retreated from the nearby town of Slavutych, where Chernobyl workers lived, Energoatom said, and the IAEA said it was preparing to send its first assistance and support mission to Chernobyl within the next few days.

Grossi was due to hold talks with senior Russian officials in Kaliningrad on Friday after visiting a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Wednesday on his first trip to the country since the invasion.

The IAEA chief, who has repeatedly warned of the dangers of the conflict – Ukraine has 15 reactors at four active nuclear power plants, as well as stores of nuclear waste at Chernobyl and elsewhere – was expected to hold a press conference at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna later on Friday.

April 2, 2022 - Posted by | safety, Ukraine

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