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U.N. inspectors arrive at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine


It was a wild ride today as a team of nuclear inspectors from the United Nations made their way to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine. The team was able to reach and gain access to the plant, and they have begun their work to assess its safety.

NPR's Elissa Nadworny is in Dnipro, Ukraine. Hey, Elissa.


SHAPIRO: It sounds like it was a really intense journey for the inspectors to get there. Tell us what they went through.

NADWORNY: Well, yeah, it certainly had the world on the edge of their seats. So to get there, they had to pass through active fighting. They came from the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is still Ukrainian controlled. But they had to go through the gray zone. That's where the two sides meet each other. And then they had to enter Russian-held territory. There were some really long delays at checkpoints. There was heavy shelling along the way. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, who's leading this team, he said that he was briefed on the military situation, but he felt the mission must proceed because the stakes of a nuclear disaster were just too high to wait.

SHAPIRO: And despite the shelling, despite the checkpoint delays, they made it. So what do we know about the visit?

NADWORNY: Yeah. The weeks-in-the-making visit finally happened. So Grossi said he was able to gather a lot of information. He saw the main things he needed to see.


RAFAEL GROSSI: I have just completed a first tour of the key areas that we wanted to see. Of course, there's a lot more to do.

NADWORNY: He said his team plans to continue working past this initial visit.

SHAPIRO: Any information on operations at the plant?

NADWORNY: Well, because of shelling again today, the plant had some damage. So there was a power supply line that went down. Workers had to shut down one of the reactors. Another idle reactor lost power and had to be switched to a generator. That's all according to Energoatom, which is the organization tasked with nuclear safety in Ukraine. The head of that organization said they are using all efforts to get that reactor back online.

SHAPIRO: What's Moscow saying about all this?

NADWORNY: Moscow has been supportive of the mission. Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, had this to say.


SERGEY LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).

NADWORNY: He's saying, "we're doing everything we can for the nuclear station to function and the inspectors to arrive."

But Russia continues to blame the shelling in and around the plant on Ukraine, claiming that they're sabotaging the visit. On Twitter, the deputy Russian ambassador to the U.N. said Russia had requested a meeting next week of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the situation at the plant and Ukraine's, quote, "reckless behavior."

SHAPIRO: OK. So Russia blames Ukraine for the shelling, but what does Ukraine say about that?

NADWORNY: Ukrainian officials say it's Russia who's doing the shelling. And today, NPR had a chance to talk with Dmytro Orlov. He is the mayor of Enerhodar, which is the city that's closest to the plant.

DMYTRO ORLOV: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: He says you can tell the shelling is coming from nearby Russian-occupied territory because the time between hearing the shot and hearing the resulting explosion is just a few seconds.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, what's next in this saga?

NADWORNY: Well, the IAEA mission is expected to be ongoing over the next few days. The main team has departed the plant tonight, but a few members are going to stay behind to continue working. Grossi, he has said, you know, he wants to keep a contingent of inspectors at the plant permanently, but it's still unclear exactly how that's going to look.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Elissa Nadworny reporting from Ukraine. Thanks a lot.

NADWORNY: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.