Explosions near Ukrainian nuclear power plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation

(Reuters) – The UN nuclear watchdog reported powerful explosions near Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday and renewed calls for a safe zone around the nuclear power plant. central.

A Russian official dismissed comments by Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), saying they suggested Moscow could not maintain nuclear security.

Russian forces seized the plant in early March, shortly after invading neighboring Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of firing around near front lines, prompting the IAEA to send experts to Ukraine’s five nuclear power plants.

Grossi, who visited Ukraine last week, said IAEA monitors regularly report explosions near the plant.

“Eight loud bangs were heard around 10 a.m. local time yesterday, rattling factory office windows, and more were audible today,” it said in a statement.

But Renat Karchaa, adviser to the director of Rosenergoatom, the company that operates Russia’s nuclear power plants, said Grossi’s comments were unfounded.

«I can only describe this as a provocation. Before providing such information, you must verify it and establish that it is not based on rumors,» Tas quoted him as saying.

«On the one hand, they want to show that they are doing something useful. On the other hand, they are once again sowing doubt in Western public opinion that Russia cannot cope with the maintenance of nuclear security.»

Karchaa’s acerbic tone was somewhat unusual. Russian officials have sought to assure Western countries that they meet safety standards and continue to work with the IAEA.

In his statement, Grossi said he had discussed the proposed zone with the European Union in Brussels this week and would have further talks with Moscow.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by David Ljunggren and Grant McCool)

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