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IAEA: Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant lost last remaining external power source

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Overnight shelling that cut the power line supplying cooling systems at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine was “tremendously irresponsible,” the UN atomic watchdog said on Saturday, calling again for a protection zone.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling at the site of Europe's biggest nuclear plant that has damaged buildings and threatened a catastrophic nuclear accident. The International Atomic Energy Agency is pushing for a protection zone to be set up to prevent further shelling.

Even though Zaporizhzhia’s six reactors are shut down, the nuclear fuel in them still needs cooling to prevent a nuclear meltdown. That requires a constant supply of electricity.

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“The resumption of shelling, hitting the plant’s sole source of external power, is tremendously irresponsible. The Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant must be protected,” the IAEA quoted its chief Rafael Grossi as saying in a statement.

The IAEA confirmed an earlier statement by Ukrainian nuclear regulator Energoatom that said the plant had switched to its diesel generators after shelling at around 1 a.m. cut the main 750 kilovolt line supplying external power to the plant.

“All the plant’s safety systems continue to receive power and are operating normally, the IAEA experts (stationed at Zaporizhzhia) were informed by senior Ukrainian operating staff,” the IAEA said.

Grossi has been in talks with Russia and Ukraine on setting up a protection zone around the plant, though he has declined to say what that would involve exactly or how it would be enforced or monitored. He was in Kyiv on Thursday and is due to go to Russia early next week.

“I will soon travel to the Russian Federation, and then return to Ukraine, to agree on a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the plant. This is an absolute and urgent imperative,” the IAEA quoted Grossi as saying.

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