© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Petro Kotin, head of the Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom, speaks during an interview with Reuters, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine September 5, 2022. REUTERS/Ivan Lyubysh-Kirdey/File Photo
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukraine wants the United Nations to send peacekeepers to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant even without a deal with Russia to establish a safety zone there, the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company said.
Ukraine has called for UN peacekeepers at the site since September. But the comment was the first time a Ukraine nuclear official has suggested publicly peacekeepers should be deployed in the absence of an agreement to create a safety zone at the plant, which Russia took control of soon after invading the country on Feb. 24.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, Europe’s largest, has suffered repeated shelling and power cuts, raising concerns of radioactive catastrophe. Ukraine and Russia trade blame for the shelling
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), had hoped to mediate an agreement between Russia and Ukraine on a safety zone by January.
Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom, said the absence of a deal means the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member, should deploy peacekeepers.
“The problem is there is no solution (at) the level of IAEA,” Kotin told Reuters in an online interview from his office in Kyiv on Tuesday. “The process is not going forward. We would propose to bring this problem to the next level,” he said.
The prospects were uncertain. Russia could veto any Security Council resolution for peacekeepers. But Kotin said this would raise public awareness of Moscow’s actions.
He said a peacekeeping force would be a way to end Russian control of the plant. However, the absence of a safety zone could complicate drawing the boundaries for a peacekeeping mission’s area of control, potentially exposing peacekeepers to danger.
In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree transferring the plant from Energoatom to a subsidiary of Russia’s Rosatom, a move Kyiv said amounted to theft.
In an internal meeting on Wednesday, Ukraine officials will discuss how to raise the peacekeeper issue to the Security Council, Kotin said.
The IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russia has coerced 1,500 Ukrainian workers at Zaporizhzhia to sign contracts saying they now work for a unit of Rosatom, Kotin said. There are about 6,000 workers at the plant, compared to 11,000 before the war. Kotin said about 10% of the plant’s Ukrainian operating staff were among those who signed contracts and the remainder were in non-operating roles.
Shutdowns can be harmful to nuclear plants unless careful maintenance is performed, and Kotin worried that a breakdown in communications between staff and Energoatom due to Russia’s activities could lead to the Zaporizhzhia plant’s deterioration.