(Bloomberg) -- International nuclear monitors say they are closing in on an agreement between Ukraine and Russia that would set up a security zone around Europe’s largest atomic energy plant, potentially easing concerns about an accident.
“We are getting closer to something that could be acceptable,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said in an interview Friday with Bloomberg News. IAEA monitors are at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, whose six reactors are shut down after months of attacks, while Grossi tries to persuade the governments in Kyiv and Moscow to cease military activities around the facility.
Grossi, an Argentine diplomat, said he expects to sit down separately with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the near future to push negotiations forward.
Russia claimed ownership over the plant in October as part of a wider “annexation” of occupied territory in Ukraine in a move condemned by the United Nations. Russian officials told the plant’s Ukrainian staff to reapply with Russian state-owned atomic energy company Rosatom to keep their jobs. The facility has been under weekly bombardment since July, with Ukraine and Russia each blaming the other for the attacks.
The IAEA has “no information” that Russian forces may be preparing to retreat from the nuclear facility, said Grossi, although he added that his inspectors have “been hearing rumors” that Moscow might be contemplating a withdrawal.
“In spite of all of these abnormal circumstances, the plants are viable,” Grossi said. The reactors are “ready to be fired up” once they can be operated safety and Ukraine’s electricity grid is ready to transmit power.
The IAEA is also preparing to widen its monitoring activities to Ukraine’s three other nuclear plants after Russian attacks on the country’s power grids forced them offline. Unlike coal or gas-fueled plants, nuclear reactors need a constant flow of electricity to run pumps used to cool nuclear fuel.
Russian missile attacks against transmission lines, power plants and electrical substations have forced Ukraine to implement rolling blackouts for parts of the country for more than a month.
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