The UN nuclear chief has called for an end to attacks at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in south-eastern Ukraine.

Rafael Grossi warned on Thursday that “very alarming” military activity at Europe’s largest nuclear plant could lead to dangerous consequences for the region.

Rafael Grossi urged Russia and Ukraine, who blame each other for the attacks at the plant, to immediately allow nuclear experts to assess damage and evaluate safety and security at the sprawling nuclear complex where the situation “has been deteriorating very rapidly”.

He pointed to shelling and several explosions at Zaporizhzhia last Friday that forced the shutdown of the electrical power transformer and two backup transformers, forcing the shutdown of one nuclear reactor.

Last week, Mr Grossi said in an Associated Press interview that the situation at Zaporizhzhia was “completely out of control”.

On Thursday, he demanded a halt to military actions “that have even the smallest potential to jeopardise nuclear safety” at such an important installation.

While a preliminary assessment by experts found “no immediate threat to nuclear safety” at the plant from the shelling and military actions, he warned “this could change at any moment”.

Mr Grossi’s appeal echoed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call earlier on Thursday for an end to all military activity around the Zaporizhzhia plant, warning that any damage could lead to “catastrophic consequences” in the vicinity, the region and beyond.

UN Russia Ukraine War Nuclear Threats
Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that ‘Kyiv’s criminal attacks on nuclear infrastructure are pushing the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe’ (AP/Mary Altaffer)

Mr Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), gave a virtual briefing to the UN Security Council at a meeting called by Russia to discuss what Moscow claims were Ukrainian attacks on the plant.

While the plant is controlled by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to run the nuclear operations. It is in Enerhodar, a city seized by Russian troops in early March soon after they invaded Ukraine.

Mr Grossi said statements received from Russia and Ukraine “are frequently contradicted” and the IAEA cannot corroborate important facts unless its experts visit Zaporizhzhia.

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that ”Kyiv’s criminal attacks on nuclear infrastructure are pushing the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe”.

He accused Ukrainian armed forces in recent days of repeatedly using heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems to shell the Zaporizhzhia plant, including on Thursday.

“The background radiation at the nuclear power plant at the moment is within limits, but if the strikes continue it is only a question of time,” Mr Nebenzia warned.

“We call on states that support the Kyiv regime to bring their proxies into check to compel them to immediately and once and for all stop attacks.”

Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, accused Russia of using “elaborate plans of deceit, sabotage and cover-ups” to stage the shelling at Zaporizhzhia, including on Thursday, which poses “an unprecedented threat to nuclear security for Ukraine, to Europe and the world as a whole”.

The Ukrainian state company operating the plant, Enerhoatom, said there was renewed Russian shelling of the Zaporizhzhia facility and nearby buildings on Thursday.

“Five (hits) were recorded near the plant management’s office — right next to the welding site and the storage facility for radiation sources,” Enerhoatom said in a post on its official Telegram channel.

“The grass caught fire over a small area, but fortunately, no one was hurt.”

Ukraine’s ambassador told the council the only way to remove the nuclear threats is by withdrawing Russian troops and returning the plant to Ukraine’s control.