Ukraine- Security Council, 8986th Meeting

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04-Mar-2022 02:11:19
Fighting at Ukraine nuclear power site irresponsible, against Geneva Conventions, Under-Secretary-General tells Security Council.

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Delegate Calls on Russian Federation to Protect Civilians, Stresses That International Humanitarian Law Is Not Optional

Fierce overnight fighting at Ukraine’s largest nuclear power facility — which resulted in a fire, but has not elevated radiation levels — is both unacceptable and “highly irresponsible”, the senior United Nations political affairs official told an emergency meeting of the Security Council today.

Rosemary Dicarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, was joined by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, who detailed events over the last 24 hours and expressed his readiness to immediately deploy a non-political nuclear‑safety mission to Ukraine.

“Ukraine knows only too well the devastation a major nuclear accident can cause,” Ms. DiCarlo told the Security Council, referring to the devastating 1986 nuclear incident in the town of Chernobyl. Describing fighting at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in the town of Enerhodar in recent hours, she said heavy shelling there affected a training facility, and not the plant’s cooling system or power centre. Nevertheless, developments at the site are not only unacceptable, but also “highly irresponsible”, she stressed, recalling that attacks on nuclear power facilities run counter to article 56 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Grossi, addressing the Council remotely from onboard an aircraft, said IAEA has been in regular contact with Ukrainian nuclear regulatory officials. They reported that Russian Federation troops moving into the area of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station were met with opposition by Ukrainian civilians, but in recent hours a projectile hit a building near the power plant’s nuclear reactors, resulting in a fire that was then extinguished. No safety systems were compromised, and no nuclear reactors were hit. While the plant’s operations continue normally, he emphasized that “there is no normalcy about this situation when there are military forces in charge of the site”.

Against that fraught backdrop, he said IAEA is prepared to travel to Ukraine as soon as possible, with the goal of establishing a framework to ensure that the safety and integrity of all nuclear facilities can be observed. “This mission of the IAEA, if and when it takes place, should not have anything to do with the political and diplomatic aspects that are in the purview of the Security Council,” he said, emphasizing that such a mission would be strictly restricted to the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

As Council members took the floor, many sounded alarm over the events unfolding in and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, as well as in Ukraine more broadly. Several emphasized that an accident or incident at the nuclear facility — which is Europe’s largest — would have unimaginable consequences for human and planetary health, and wreak havoc far greater than that witnessed in Chernobyl in 1986. Nearly every speaker called for an immediate de‑escalation, with many urging the Russian Federation to promptly withdraw all its troops and weapons from the territory of Ukraine.

Norway’s representative said shelling and fighting in the immediate vicinity of a civilian nuclear power plant shows a blatant disregard for Ukrainian lives, Russian lives and indeed life in Europe and beyond. Stressing that international humanitarian law is not optional, she called on Moscow to fulfil its obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. It must immediately withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory and cease all threats and military actions, including in the vicinity of, and directed at, nuclear facilities, she said, adding: “A ceasefire is desperately and urgently needed; diplomacy must win.”

The representative of the United Kingdom, one of the delegations who called for today’s emergency session, said today marks the first time that a State has attacked a fuelled, functioning nuclear power plant. International law mandates special protection for nuclear facilities, and it is difficult to see how Moscow’s actions are compatible with its commitments thereunder. This must not happen again, and even amid its illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Federation must keep the fighting away from — and protect the safety and security of — nuclear sites, she stressed.

Ghana’s representative emphasized that every effort must be made to mitigate the risk of accidental emissions, which pose immeasurable risk to the lives of civilians and an already fragile environment. Support must continue for IAEA to enable it to provide necessary assistance to Ukrainian authorities to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities and infrastructure together with all staff on site, she said, recalling the horrors of the 1986 Chernobyl accident and the consequent nuclear catastrophe.

The representative of Brazil, echoing calls on all parties to refrain from any action that could jeopardize the security of nuclear material, declared: “We cannot turn a blind eye to the role that the Council should play, but is not playing, in the current situation.” No matter how many public meetings the Council convenes, it seems a ceasefire and an end to the hostilities remain elusive. Urging all members to promote dialogue and rebuild trust, he stressed: “This is not the time to further escalate the rhetoric, but to engage in conversations towards peace.”

Meanwhile, the representatives of the Russian Federation and Ukraine outlined opposing narratives of the events that unfolded over the last 24 hours. Moscow’s representative said the Zaporizhzhia power plant was in fact taken by Russian forces on 28 February and placed under the guard of the Russian military, with the goal of preventing Ukrainian forces or others from creating a nuclear provocation or interrupting the power supply to civilians. On the night of 4 March, however, Ukrainian saboteurs fired upon Russian forces who were patrolling the area and set a fire, which was quickly extinguished. No personnel were injured, the power units at Zaporizhzhia were not damaged and the facility continues to operate normally.

Describing today’s meeting as yet another attempt by the Kyiv authorities to create “artificial hysteria” about the events taking place in Ukraine, he declared: “A massive anti-Russia information campaign is unfolding.” Moscow has no interest in seeking a nuclear provocation of any kind, having also lived through the 1986 Chernobyl incident. The Council’s reaction today only proves that Ukrainian saboteurs enjoy “carte blanche” for their actions from the international community, he said.

Ukraine’s representative, strongly rejecting that description of events, said that, on 3 March the Russian Federation committed an act of nuclear terrorism by shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station. Expressing alarm that the power plant is now under the control of Russian forces — and that several employees responsible for the safe functioning of the site have been killed — he said that, while radiation levels remain normal, Ukrainian nuclear regulators have not been granted access to the site. Any disruption to the cooling process could have irreparable environmental and human consequences for the entire region, he warned.

“Russia seems to be furious that its plans to quickly invade Ukraine have already failed,” he said, noting that the Ukrainian people continue to courageously fight for their freedom with broad support from the global community. Noting Moscow’s attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure over the last week, he reminded the Council of its responsibly vis-á-vis a no-fly zone, requesting it to consider the protection of nuclear power plants and urging it to urgently invoke a ban on all flights over Ukraine. He described the Council’s failure to act as an enormous derogation of its responsibility, urging international entities to expel the Russian Federation’s representatives, “as they do not deserve to be among civilized and responsible nations”.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Albania, United States, France, Ireland, India, Mexico, China, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.

The meeting began at 11:37 a.m. and ended at 1:20 p.m.

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