The UN team heads to the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — A team of international nuclear inspectors targeted the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant Wednesday at the center of fighting in southern Ukraine amid international concern about a potential radiation accident or leak.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he hoped to establish a permanent mission in Ukraine to monitor Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

“These operations are very complex. We’re going to a war zone. We are going into occupied territory. And this requires explicit guarantees not only from the Russians, but also from the Republic of Ukraine,” Grossi said in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv before monitoring the mission’s departure.

“We managed to secure it. … So now we’re moving.”

The power plant has been occupied by Russian forces and operated by Ukrainian workers since the early days of the 6-month war.

It was recently cut temporarily from the power grid due to fire damage, causing blackouts in the region and heightening fears of a catastrophe in a country haunted by the Chernobyl disaster.

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Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Galushchenko said Kyiv was seeking international help to try to demilitarize the area.

“We think the mission should be a very important step to bring (the plant) back under the control of the Ukrainian government by the end of the year,” Galushchenko told The Associated Press.

“We have information that now they are trying to hide their military presence, so they need to check all that.

Zaporizhia is a vital source of energy for Ukraine and remains connected to its power grid. Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the wider region around the nuclear power plant, and the risks are so serious that authorities have begun handing out anti-radiation iodine tablets to nearby residents.

Grossi met on Tuesday with the Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky to discuss the mission, which is expected to last several days.

Inspectors from the IAEA, a United Nations agency, were due to reach the Zaporozhye region, 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of the Ukrainian capital, later on Wednesday.

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