Russian Troops Throw Zaporizhzhia Staff in Nuclear Plant Basement: Report

Russian forces occupying Europe's biggest nuclear power plant in Ukraine have reportedly thrown plant workers into the basement.

The reports suggest it is unclear who is currently ensuring the safe operation of the Zaporizhzhia plant, which has been under Russian control since March.

Up to now, the plant has been operated by its regular Ukrainian staff on rotation, albeit under intense pressure, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

However, Dmytro Orlov, mayor of the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar where the plant is located, told U.S. government-funded news outlet Radio Liberty on Tuesday: "People are being taken straight from the nuclear power plant… and they're being thrown into basements." Orlov said there were more than a dozen employees affected.

Russian soldier at the Zaporizhzhia plant
A photo shows a Russian soldier at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine on May 1 this year. Russian forces have occupied the huge plant since March. Andrey Borodulin/AFP/Getty

Russia has had nuclear specialists of its own stationed at the plant who were sent there from the country's state-owned nuclear company Rosatom.

Russia's occupation of the plant has been a cause for concern across Europe. In April this year, around the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the European Union urged Russia to withdraw its troops from the plant, saying the country was "threatening nuclear security on our continent."

"Illegal occupation and disruptions in the normal operation of these facilities, such as preventing staff rotation, undermine the safe and reliable operation of nuclear power plants in Ukraine and significantly increase the risk of accidents," the statement read at the time, per a Ukrainian translation from Radio Liberty.

The power plant was the site of a battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces back in March that caused alarm due to potential damage to reactors. The fighting led to a fire breaking out in one part of the plant that was later extinguished.

Although the plant has averted a major accident so far, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director of the IAEA, expressed concern this month that the situation there was worsening by the day. He called for an IAEA-led international mission to the plant to carry out essential safety checks.

"This mission is not a matter of wanting or wishing, it is an obligation on the side of Ukraine and on the side of the IAEA," Grossi said, per a press release. "The IAEA will go to Zaporizhzhia under the legally binding safeguards agreement that Ukraine has with the IAEA."

The safe operation of a nuclear power plant involves several factors outside of the physical integrity of the facilities. Uninterrupted supply chains, continued radiation monitoring, reliable communication with regulators, and staff working free of pressure are all central pillars of nuclear safety, according to the IAEA.

A nuclear power plant operated unsafely might experience a nuclear accident such as a meltdown—though it's unclear what the risk of this is regarding the Zaporizhzhia plant.