UN nuclear inspectors have carried out a preliminary inspection at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said Thursday, adding that part of his team would be staying on at the facility. The much-awaited arrival of the IAEA team was delayed for several hours due to increased military activity as Russia and Ukraine accused each other of shelling near the site. Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

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7:15am: IAEA presence at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant ‘hugely beneficial’

A long-term or permanent presence by IAEA nuclear inspectors at the Zaporizhzhia plant in Ukraine “would be hugely beneficial” in terms of easing fears of a nuclear incident, says Dr Ross Peel, a nuclear expert at King’s College London’s.

Such a presence “would allow constant monitoring of conditions at the plant, real independent evidence coming out constantly about what is going on there,” he told FRANCE 24, noting that “disinformation and misinformation have played a huge role so far in this conflict”.

“Shelling near any nuclear site is obviously a grave concern and we should be avoiding that whenever possible,” Dr Peel said. “Even when shells are targeted away from critical systems, things can go off target.”

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The nuclear expert said IAEA inspectors would be looking to determine “what the conditions have been for workers at the plant” and whether they have been able “to perform their duties safely”.

He added: “I expect they will find signs of several damage to the plant and its systems but hopefully (the damage) can be addressed.”

6:45pm: Gorbachev died ‘shocked and bewildered’ by Ukraine war

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who died on Tuesday aged 91, was shocked and bewildered by the Ukraine conflict and saddened by years of worsening ties between Moscow and Kyiv, his interpreter has said.

Pavel Palazhchenko, who worked with the late Soviet president for 37 years and was at his side at numerous US-Soviet summits, spoke to Gorbachev a few weeks ago by phone and said he and others had been struck by how traumatised he was by events in Ukraine.

“It’s not just the (military) operation that started on Feb. 24, but the entire evolution of relations between Russia and Ukraine over the past years that was really, really a big blow to him. It really crushed him emotionally and psychologically,” Palazhchenko told Reuters in an interview.

“It was very obvious to us in our conversations that he was shocked and bewildered by what was happening. He believed not just in the closeness of the Russian and Ukrainian people, he believed that those two nations were intermingled,” Palazhchenko added.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev died in a Moscow hospital on August 30, 2022, aged 91.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev died in a Moscow hospital on August 30, 2022, aged 91. © Boris Yurchenko, AP

5:12pm: Ukraine working to switch reactor back on at occupied nuclear plant, says Energoatom chief

The IAEA visit to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant will be successful if it leads to the plant’s “demilitarization”, the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear company told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

Ukraine is also making “all efforts” to switch the plant’s fifth reactor back on after it shut down due to shelling early on Thursday.

4:46: IAEA chief Grossi says he saw what ‘needed to see’, IAEA ‘will be staying’ at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Thursday he saw what he “needed to see” at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant that has been frequently shelled. 

“I think we were able in these few hours to put together a lot, a lot of information. The key things I needed to see I saw, and your explanations were very clear,” Rafael Grossi told Russian media accompanying the IAEA inspection team at the Moscow-controlled atomic plant. 

“The IAEA is staying here. Let the world know that the IAEA is staying at Zaporizhzhia,” Grossi said in a video released by the Russian RIA Novosti news agency. He did not specify how many people will be staying and for how long. 

4:43pm: Nuclear inspectors seen leaving Zaporizhzhia plant

Some members of an inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were seen leaving the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine on Thursday after spending several hours at the site, a Reuters reporter on the scene said.

Four of the nine vehicles from the IAEA delegation left the facility’s territory, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

2:55pm: Macron vows to prevent Russia from winning the war

French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to keep up France’s humanitarian, economic and military support to Ukraine and to bolster European unity as a way to pile pressure on Russia and prevent it from winning the war.

“We cannot let Russia militarily win the war,” Macron said in a speech to French ambassadors at the Elysée presidential palace. 

He set the goal of enabling Ukraine to either win militarily or be put in a strong position to achieve “a negotiated peace”.

“We must get prepared for a long war,” Macron said, also defending his decision to continue talking with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin

>> Read more: France’s Macron vows long-term support for Ukraine

1:38pm: IAEA team arrives at Zaporizhzhia plant: Ukraine’s state nuclear company

The IAEA mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has arrived at the power station, Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom confirmed in a Telegram post.

Earlier today, Energoatom said Russian shelling had forced the shutdown of one of only two operating reactors at the site, while Moscow said it had thwarted a Ukrainian attempt to seize the plant.

12:52pm: Red Cross denied access to Ukrainian POWs in Olenivka

Red Cross officials have failed to secure access to Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka in the Donetsk region, said the head of the international aid group.

Ukraine and Russia have traded accusations over a July attack in Olenivka that killed prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists.

International Committee of the Red Cross Director-General Robert Mardini told reporters in Kyiv that the group was engaged in intense negotiations with Russian authorities, but had not been granted access to those POWs and also lacked security guarantees to carry out such a visit.

The Red Cross registered 1,800 people taken from the besieged Azovstal steel works in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, with the understanding that it would be allowed to visit them, but that has not been possible, said Mardini/

Olenivka is about 90 km (55 miles) north of Mariupol.

12:52pm: Russian troops ‘forcibly transferring’ Ukrainian civilians: HRW

Russian forces have been forcibly transferring Ukrainian civilians, including those fleeing hostilities, to areas under their control, Human Rights Watch said in a major report released on Thursday.

Forced transfers “are a serious violation of the laws of war amounting to a war crimes and a potential crime against humanity,” the New York-based rights groups said.

The 71-page report, “‘We Had No Choice’: ‘Filtration’ and the Crime of Forcibly Transferring Ukrainian Civilians to Russia,” documents the harrowing experiences of Ukrainian civilians who went through filtration, had family members or friends who were transferred to Russia, or who supported Ukrainians trying to leave Russia. Most had fled the Mariupol area, and several were transferred from the Kharkiv region.

10:22am:  Russia doing ‘everything’ for Zaporizhzhia plant to operate safely: Lavrov

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has insisted that Moscow is doing everything to ensure that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant can operate safely, and for IAEA inspectors to be able to complete their tasks.

“We are doing everything to ensure that this station is safe, that it functions safely, and for the mission there to carry out all its plans,” said Lavrov at an event in Moscow.

10:07am: ‘Time to stop playing with fire’ round Zaporizhzhia plant: ICRC chief

The Red Cross has called for a halt to all military operations around the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, warning the consequences of a strike could be “catastrophic”.

“It is high time to stop playing with fire and instead take concrete measures to protect this facility and others like it from any military operations,” Robert Mardini, director general of the ICRC, told reporters in Kyiv. 

“The slightest miscalculation could trigger devastations that we will regret for decades.”

8:56am: ‘Very tense, very unclear’ situation in Zaporizhzhia city

Reporting from Zaporizhzhia city, FRANCE 24’s James André said journalists saw the IAEA team getting ready to leave their hotel in Zaporizhzhia city for the nuclear plant early Thursday before IAEA chief Rafael Grossi spoke to reporters.

Grossi said the team was “aware” of the military activity in the area, “but we’re not stopping after coming so far”.

Regarding the IAEA mission’s security situation, André explained the Russians and Ukrainians were locked in “a blame game” with each side accusing the other of attacking the Zaporizhzhia area and attempting to sabotage the mission. It’s “a very tense, very unclear situation unfolding here”, explained André as the UN inspection team heads for Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.


8:18am Russia accuses Ukraine of trying to capture Zaporizhzhia plant

Russia’s defence ministry said Ukrainian forces had attempted to seize the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on Thursday morning.

In a statement, the ministry said that up to 60 Ukrainian troops had crossed the Dnipro river, which divides territory held by the two sides, in boats at 6am local time. It called the operation a “provocation” aimed at disrupting the IAEA’s visit to the nuclear plant.

The ministry said that “measures had been taken” to destroy the opposing troops, including use of military aviation.

The report could not be immediately verified.

8:05am Ukraine accuses Russia of shelling IAEA mission route

Russian troops were shelling the route of the IAEA mission planned to allow them access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, said Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the Zaporizhzhia region.

“The Russians are shelling the pre-agreed route of the IAEA mission from (the city of) Zaporizhzhia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The UN advance team cannot continue to move due to security reasons,” Starukh wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

7:37am: IAEA team ‘pressing ahead’ despite ‘increased military activity’ 

The IAEA team has set off from Zaporizhzhia city towards the nuclear power plant in the Russian-controlled town of Enerhodar despite reports of intense shelling there.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the mission was aware of “increased military activity in the area” but was pressing ahead with its plan to visit the facility and meet its staff.

6:38am: Moscow approves Japan stakes in Sakhalin energy project

Two Japanese trading houses will maintain stakes in a Russian energy project despite Tokyo joining sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine, as the Asian country looks to secure its power supply.

Moscow is transferring operation of the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project to a new Russian firm, with foreign stakeholders required to apply for approval to maintain their interests.

Like other countries that have joined sanctions, Japan is seeking to reduce its reliance on Russian energy imports but struggling to find alternatives.

5:05am: IAEA team expected to visit Zaporizhzhia plant soon

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are expected to arrive at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine later today.

The inspection will take one or two days and six to eight IAEA experts are expected to stay at the plant following the visit, according to the Russian-installed officials in Enerhodar, the town where the plant is based.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have accused each other of shelling the plant, actions that have raised concerns about a possible nuclear disaster.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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