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Merkley and colleagues sound the alarm to Biden over Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s nuclear power plants

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) — Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey, along with Reps. Don Beyer (VA-08) and John Garamendi (CA-03), sent a letter Monday to President Biden urging his support for the deployment of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Ukraine in light of Russia’s reckless attacks on nuclear facilities there.

The four members are co-chairs of the Working Group on Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control.

In the letter, lawmakers wrote:

“Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities is unprecedented. This is the first time that a civilian nuclear reactor has come under direct military attack. Along with its decision to place its nuclear forces on high alert, Russia is showing complete disregard for human life and for the prevention of nuclear catastrophe.

“Civil nuclear power plants were threatened immediately after the first invading shots. March 4and, Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, was attacked by Russian forces, who fired heavy weapons at the reactor and administrative buildings, causing damage to critical areas that house dangerous nuclear fuel. This attack also started a fire in a facility adjacent to the nuclear reactors. More recently, the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which Russia seized on the second day of the conflict, was cut off from power, jeopardizing the cooling systems which are essential to prevent the release of radiation into the atmosphere.

“The working conditions of Ukrainian nuclear technicians and engineers at these plants are also of great concern. The Russian military commander who attacked the Zaporizhzhia plant now oversees the site’s activities there, although he is not versed in nuclear energy issues. Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko claimed that Russia was forcing management personnel at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to make propaganda recordings. At the Chernobyl station, Russia held back more than 200 technicians and guards for more than two weeks. These operators are, according to the Ukrainian Minister of Energy, “physically and psychologically exhausted” while handling potentially toxic materials.

“We call on you, as President, to take all available steps to encourage the IAEA’s involvement in monitoring the situation in Ukraine, identifying any necessary action that may be desirable and recommending all necessary precautions for the greatest safety.”

The letter comes after Merkley, Markey, Beyer and Garamendi issued a joint statement earlier this month condemning Russia’s nuclear threats against Ukraine and beyond.

The full letter can be found here and follows below:

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March 14, 2022

Dear President Biden,

As Russia brazenly violates countless international rules and norms with its unwarranted and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we are writing to express our concern over the radiological risks surrounding Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. In the face of these catastrophic risks, the technical expertise of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must be made available to monitor and advise on the rapidly changing situation on the ground. We urge you to find ways to encourage IAEA involvement in monitoring this situation.

Moscow’s seizure of Ukrainian nuclear facilities is unprecedented. This is the first time that a civilian nuclear reactor has come under direct military attack. Along with its decision to place its nuclear forces on high alert, Russia is showing complete disregard for human life and for the prevention of nuclear catastrophe.

Civilian nuclear power plants were threatened immediately after the first shots of the invasion. March 4and, Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, was attacked by Russian forces, who fired heavy weapons at the reactor and administrative buildings, causing damage to critical areas that house dangerous nuclear fuel. This attack also started a fire in a facility adjacent to the nuclear reactors. More recently, the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which Russia seized on the second day of the conflict, was cut off from power, jeopardizing the cooling systems which are essential to prevent the release of radiation into the atmosphere.

The working conditions of Ukrainian nuclear technicians and engineers in these plants are also of great concern. The Russian military commander who attacked the Zaporizhzhia plant now oversees the site’s activities there, although he is not versed in nuclear energy issues. Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko claimed that Russia was forcing management personnel at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to make propaganda recordings. At the Chernobyl station, Russia held back more than 200 technicians and guards for more than two weeks. These operators are, according to the Ukrainian Minister of Energy, “physically and psychologically exhausted” while handling potentially toxic materials.

The IAEA says the Ukrainian regulator has asked it to help create a plan to provide “an effective rotation system” for the approximately 200 employees who remain at Chernobyl. It is imperative that neutral inspectors be allowed to observe and assess all Ukrainian nuclear facilities, report to the international community and ensure that a radiological disaster does not occur.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi supports IAEA monitoring and has already proposed a trilateral meeting between Russia, Ukraine and the IAEA at Chernobyl. Russia responded that it supported Grossi’s idea, but did not support the location of the Chernobyl site, a worrying sign of Russia’s willingness to negotiate in good faith. On March 10, Grossi traveled to Anatolia, Turkey, and met separately with the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia. It is essential that the United States and the international community support the IAEA’s efforts to bring about a trilateral meeting.

We recognize that, under current conditions, none of this is possible without Russian consent. Moreover, we recognize that Russia has not negotiated in good faith in other diplomatic efforts, especially since it has flouted ceasefire agreements allowing civilians to flee the violence. If we must be lucid about the limits and pitfalls of engagement, we must also do everything possible so that a nuclear catastrophe in Ukraine does not occur through malice, error or misunderstanding.

At a time like this, when all other communication channels are extremely limited, there is an urgent need for proper monitoring and verification at all civilian nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

Although we have yet to end the tragic violence, we can mitigate some of the most frightening and lasting collateral damage that could arise in this conflict. We call on you, as President, to take all available steps to encourage the IAEA’s involvement in monitoring the situation in Ukraine, identifying any necessary action that may be desirable and recommending all precautionary measures. necessary for the greatest security.

Truly,