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VIENNA: UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi visited a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Wednesday on his first trip to the country since Russia’s invasion raised fears of a nuclear accident.

He has repeatedly warned of the dangers of the conflict – the first in a country with a vast nuclear estate.

Russian forces seized control of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant site – where radioactive waste is still stored – on February 24, the first day of the invasion.

They also captured Europe’s largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia on March 4, sparking alarm when shelling caused a fire at a training facility.

“I’m at South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant to meet Ukrainian government officials and staff, and start IAEA technical assistance for safety and security of country’s nuclear facilities,” the International Atomic Energy Agency head wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Vital to be on the ground to provide effective support to in these extremely difficult times.”

IAEA chief makes unannounced visit to Ukraine to launch safety assistance

Grossi also thanked the staff of the plant near the town of Yuzhnoukrainsk for “their endurance and resilience”.

“I want to say that we are here with you, that we are ready to support you in whatever way and form we can,” he said in a video message also posted on Twitter.

Grossi started his Ukraine visit on Tuesday to meet government officials, as well as send experts and equipment to the country “to help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident”.

The IAEA has not said how long he will stay in Ukraine.

Ukraine has 15 reactors at four active nuclear power plants, as well as stores of nuclear waste, including at Chernobyl – the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

Grossi met Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers in Turkey this month to discuss nuclear safety but no agreement has been reached as yet.

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