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New Wave of Nuclear Blackmail: Kremlin Mines Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant Again

The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (Zaporizhzhia NPP), was seized by Russian occupiers after the battles in Energodar in early March 2022. Since then, the Russians have been controlling the plant, effectively holding its Ukrainian personnel hostage. Zaporizhzhia NPP has not been generating electricity since September 2022. However, on the night of June 6, 2023, when Russia blew up the dam of the Kakhovka Reservoir, Ukrhydroenergo and the IAEA immediately pointed out additional risks for Zaporizhzhia NPP. In order to minimize the risks of a man-made catastrophe in case of missile strikes or other emergencies, the sixth energy block of Zaporizhzhia NPP, operated by NAEK "Energoatom," was switched to a "cold shutdown" mode. On July 24, according to the press service of NAEK "Energoatom," the Russian occupiers placed the fourth energy block of Zaporizhzhia NPP in a "hot shutdown" state, which poses an undeniable risk to nuclear and radiation safety.

In a report dated July 24, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) informed that its experts had discovered anti-personnel mines in the buffer zone between the inner and outer fences of Zaporizhzhia NPP. The mines are located in an area inaccessible to the personnel. Rafael Grossi, the head of the agency, pointed out that placing explosives near a nuclear power plant is a violation of safety standards. Moreover, such actions put psychological pressure on the plant's personnel. Deputy spokesperson of the U.S. State Department, Vedant Patel, commented on the position of the United States in light of the IAEA's information about the mines found on the territory of Zaporizhzhia NPP: "Such violent and unstable activities in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear power plant, and in this case, on its territory, are extremely dangerous." The United States warned the Kremlin of the inevitable responsibility if Russia causes a nuclear catastrophe at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The mining of Zaporizhzhia NPP, revealed by the IAEA experts, occurred shortly after Russia's exit from the grain deal and the bombardment of Ukraine's port infrastructure carried out by the Russian Aerospace Forces (Russian Air Force). Consequently, international isolation of Russia intensified, which forced the Kremlin to resort to its familiar tactic of nuclear terror.

Oleg Korikov, who is currently acting as the head of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, reported on June 14 during a briefing that Russian invaders had stopped the automatic transmission of radiation data from sensors to Ukraine at Zaporizhzhia NPP. Now, representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency working at the plant are forced to record or photograph information from the sensors and send the data to the IAEA headquarters. The head of the Ukrainian state structure noted that later the indicators and data are entered into the relevant system, accessible to all IAEA member states, including Ukraine. According to him, the actions of the Russian invaders continue to undermine the safety principles at the plant. On July 24, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate reported a significant increase in the Russian military contingent at the facility. However, the continuous monitoring mission of the IAEA cannot access all areas of the plant to verify its safety and absence of threats to the population. According to the IAEA, the Russians have placed military equipment and machinery in the turbine compartments of the first, second, and fourth energy blocks. This situation indicates that the Kremlin has long ceased to be guided by common sense: nuclear terrorism is a threat that concerns everyone. Russia must be stopped at any cost: with sanctions, isolation, and increased supplies of weapons to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which have become a shield for Europe. Russia has long crossed all "red lines" and must be held accountable for the crimes it commits.

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