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The IAEA says it's worried about the stability of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

U.N. inspectors have painted an alarming picture of conditions inside a damaged nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah. The United Nations has once again called for both Russia and Ukraine to stop fighting around that particular nuclear plant.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from southern Ukraine.

Frank, what are the most worrisome things that inspectors found?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Yeah, A. Terrible working conditions is one thing. And they said it made it more likely that workers could make dangerous mistakes. The plant has just 80 staff for its fire brigade. That's instead of the normal 150. Of course, this plant is really dangerous. It's been subject of sporadic shelling back since early - I think, early August. There was a case last month where an employee was injured in an artillery barrage, and he happened to be at the time near a spent nuclear fuel building. And also, the concern - big one, of course, is repeated damage to these external power lines that we've been talking a lot about. They're crucial to running the pumps that push water to cool the nuclear reactor core to prevent, of course, a meltdown.

MARTINEZ: OK. Anything encouraging that inspectors may have found?

LANGFITT: Yeah. There was one, I thought. And they said that even without power, the inspectors say that the plant still has a lot of diesel fuel to run emergency generators. Normally, they would have enough for, say, 10 days, A. They've used some of that because they did lose power at one point. But I think the hope is that they would have enough for at least a number of days to keep the nuclear reactor core cool and figure out either some kind of other solution or, of course, in the worst-case scenario, a big evacuation.

MARTINEZ: All right. How have Ukraine and Russia responded to the report?

LANGFITT: Well, President Zelenskyy said yesterday that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations organization, needs more power to actually enforce its findings. But, of course, this is just a U.N. agency, and this is - we're talking about a war zone. Now, at the National Security Council, the Russian representative - he mischaracterized the report, the details of which I was just talking about, and said it actually praised the Russians for keeping the plant safe, which is definitely not true. Both sides, of course, as we've been reporting, have blamed each other for the shelling.

But the Russians say that they've given data to the U.N. that shows that the Ukrainians are behind it. And they want the U.N. to say this very specifically. This is what the representative at the Security Council said through a translator.

VASILY NEBENZYA: (Through interpreter) We regret that this source of shelling is not directly named. We do understand your position as the head of an international regulator. But in the current situation, it's very important to call things by their name.

MARTINEZ: Frank, how far are you from the planet, and what's the reaction where you are to the inspectors' findings?

LANGFITT: Yeah, A, I think about 65 miles west. I'm in the city of Kryvyi Rih. And the concern, of course, would be, if there's a meltdown, radioactive clouds coming this way and maybe going to a lots of other cities. When I was talking to people this morning, they really weren't paying that much attention to the U.N. report. And they say with - this happens, they're just going to deal with it. I was talking outside a barbershop to a guy named Sergey Daravic (ph), and here is what he had to say.

SERGEY DARAVIC: (Non-English language spoken).

LANGFITT: "For a long time, I viewed the U.N. as impotent. Except for expressing deep concern, they don't really say anything," he says. Then he goes on, "we're concerned about the overall Russian aggression and the threat to our statehood. The nuclear plant is just a small detail. I'm not that concerned about it." So, you know, it's remarkable. After seven months of war, A, people look at the potential of a meltdown, which would have been unthinkable, you know, back in, say, January, as just another problem here.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Ukraine. Frank, thanks.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.