The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency will lead a group of experts to evaluate the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after Russian troops abruptly abandoned it this week.
Heavy military machinery used by the Russians seems to have kicked up radiation in the area, said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at a press conference Friday, but he could not confirm reports of Russian troops experiencing radiation poisoning.
Russia sparked international alarm in the earliest days of the war for attacking and seizing the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. The plant requires around-the-clock monitoring to ensure nuclear materials remain safely contained.
“We are going to be there very, very soon, because in Chernobyl, there is a lot of work to be done,” Grossi said.
He did not indicate any particular cause for alarm, however.
“The general radiation situation around the plant is quite normal,” Grossi said. “There was a relatively higher level of localized radiation because of the heavy vehicles at the time of the occupation of the plant and apparently this might have been the case again on the way out.”
The speed of the Russians’ departure from Chernobyl came as somewhat of a surprise, although Russian forces have been retreating from areas around northern Ukraine in recent days.
Ukrainian authorities said the invading soldiers had dug trenches in the dangerously radioactive Red Forest, which lies alongside the destroyed nuclear power plant, and exposed themselves to “significant doses” of radiation.
The troops “panicked at the first sign of illness,” Ukraine’s state power company Energoatom said Thursday.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said over Twitter that the Russians “looted” the power plant before retreating.
They could not conquer Ukraine, “so they took kettles, lab equipment, and radiation,” the agency quipped.
Russian officials Grossi spoke with did not comment on their reasons for leaving. If troops were contaminated, Grossi said, the IAEA was ready to offer expert assistance.
The nuclear agency, which sits under the umbrella of the United Nations, has agreed with Ukrainian and Russian authorities to a framework on how its experts will help secure and monitor nuclear facilities throughout Ukraine during the conflict, although Grossi declined to offer many specifics.
The IAEA was setting up small teams of experts to be deployed in case of emergencies, he said.
Ukraine is very dependent on nuclear power, receiving around half of its energy supply from nuclear sources.
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