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Chernobyl radiation levels within safe limits, says head of the Nuclear Agency

Radiation levels are elevated in some parts of the earth near the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine, but do not pose a significant threat to workers or the environment, the head of the International Nuclear Watchdog Agency said on Thursday.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made the assessment based on on-site readings this week, following the first visit by nuclear inspectors since Russian forces withdrew from Chernobyl in late March.

In 1986, Chernobyl was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, caused by an explosion and fire in a reactor. The facility was subsequently closed and secured, but security concerns at the site increased as it was seized by Russian forces shortly after their invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

These forces dug up part of the ground outside the facility, apparently as part of a military operation, creating fears that they might have accidentally released some radioactive material.

“There was an increase” in radiation levels at the site where Russian forces were digging, Mr Grossi said at a news conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna. “But this increase is still significantly below the allowable levels for workers in an environment with this type of radiation.”

Mr. Grossi said one purpose of his visit to Chernobyl on Tuesday was that his team could repair the connection between the site and the agency’s headquarters in Vienna and restore continuous surveillance.

Mr. Grossi said his biggest concern in Ukraine was the Zaporizhzhia plant in the southeast, the largest nuclear plant in Europe, because it has been under Russian control since Kremlin forces occupied the area in March. Ukrainian regulators and experts have not been able to conduct inspections or assess the condition of safety equipment, he said.

In a report released Thursday summarizing the situation, Mr Grossi’s agency said that 10 senior technical officials from Russia’s nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, had remained at the Zaporizhzhia site since the Russian military took over, increasing the risk of disturbing Ukrainian personnel. . and “potential frictions when it comes to decision making.”

The report said that the moral and emotional state of the Ukrainian staff of the Zaporizhzhia factory had been “very low since the Russian military forces occupied the place.” It added that Mr Grossi considered the situation “unacceptable and untenable.”

Rick Gladstone contributed with reporting.

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