UN board calls on Russia to leave Ukraine nuclear plant

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FILE – A view of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant and the Dnipro river on the other side of Nikopol, Ukraine on Aug, 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File)

LONDON (AP) — The U.N. atomic agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors passed a resolution Thursday calling on Moscow to immediately end its occupation of a Ukrainian nuclear power plant, where shelling of the facility and nearby areas in recent weeks heightened fears of a possible radiation disaster.

Poland and Canada proposed the resolution on behalf of Ukraine, which is not a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s top decision-making body. It passed with 26 votes. Russia and China voted against it while seven Asian and African countries abstained.

The document adopted a markedly harsher tone than previous statements by officials from the Vienna-based IAEA, who largely limited themselves to calling for a “security zone” around Europe’s largest nuclear plant. The resolution says the board “deplores the Russian Federation’s persistent violent actions against nuclear facilities in Ukraine, including forcefully seizing control of nuclear facilities.”

It urges Russia to “immediately cease all actions against, and at, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and any other nuclear facility in Ukraine.” Russia seized radioactive waste facilities in Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, at the start of the war but later withdrew.

The resolution also appeals to Russia to return control of the power station to Ukrainian authorities, adding that the presence of Russian troops at the plant significantly increases the risk of a nuclear accident. The plant continues to be operated by its pre-occupation Ukrainian staff, in conditions that the IAEA previously described as endangering the site’s safety.

Russia’s permanent mission to international organizations in Vienna, including the IAEA, hit out at the resolution as “anti-Russian.”

“The Achilles’ heel of this resolution is that it does not say a word about the systematic shelling of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is the main problem in terms of ensuring nuclear safety and security in the world,” the Russian mission said in a statement Thursday, according to the Russian Interfax agency.

“The reason is simple – the shelling is carried out by Ukraine, which Western countries support and protect in every possible way,” the statement added. Moscow and Kyiv have repeatedly accused each other of firing at and around the plant.

The Russian mission noted the abstentions of the seven Asian and African countries, including Burundi, Vietnam, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Senegal, and South Africa.

“Most of humanity refused to support this project,” it said.

Ukrainian officials, for their part, hailed the resolution as evidence of the IAEA’s “adequate response” to the situation around the crippled plant.

“The resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors, demanding that Russia de-occupy the Zaporizhzhia plant, is a good example of an adequate response from an international institution to the actions of a terrorist country,” Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko wrote on Facebook.

Halushchenko thanked the board for “calling everything by its proper name” and accused Moscow of unleashing “a shower of manipulative statements” around the situation at the plant.

He also expressed hope that the seven abstaining countries would revise their positions ahead of the IAEA’s general conference later this month.

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