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Ukraine nuclear boss says he sees signs Russia may leave occupied plant

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The head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy company said Sunday that there are signs that Russian forces may be preparing for the evacuation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant they seized in March. This was not long after their invasion.

This would represent a significant battlefield shift in the partially-occupied Zaporizhzhia area, where the front line has barely moved for months. Fears of a nuclear disaster have been raised by repeated shelling at the plant.

Petro Kotin (head of Energoatom) said on national television: "In recent weeks we have effectively received information that they may be preparing to leave [the plant]."

He said that there were a lot of reports in Russian media suggesting it would be worthwhile to evacuate the (plant) and perhaps hand control (of it to the) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), referring to United Nations nuclear watchdog. "One gets the impression that they are packing their bags and stealing all they can."

Russia and Ukraine, the two countries that were the victims of the worst nuclear accident in the world in Chernobyl 1986, have been blaming each other for shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor complex. It is now no longer producing energy.

Kotin responded on television to a question about whether it was premature to discuss Russian troops leaving the plant.

"All of the (Ukrainian) personnel are forbidden to pass checkpoints and travel to Ukrainian(-controlled) territory."

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On 23 November, the IAEA chief met with a Russian delegation to Istanbul to discuss setting up a safety zone around Europe's largest nuclear plant to prevent a disaster. Zaporizhzhia once provided about a fifth the electricity for Ukraine.

Russia's RIA news agency reported that Sergey Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister, stated the day following the meeting that a decision regarding a protection area should be made "fairly quickly".

Ukraine has retaken the southern city Kherson, as well as a large area of land on Dnipro's right bank in Kherson region. This is just a month after the country seized Zaporizhzhia provincial.

The UN nuclear watchdog said on Friday (25 November) that Ukraine's three nuclear power plants located on territory controlled by the government had been reconnected with the grid two days after they were hit with a Russian missile. This was their first shut down in 40 years.

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