'Time to stop playing with fire' round Ukraine nuclear plant: ICRC chief

A Ukrainian Emergency Ministry rescuer attends an exercise in the city of Zaporizhzhia on August 17, 2022, in case of a possible nuclear incident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant located near the city. Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

Kyiv, Ukraine -- The Red Cross on Thursday demanded a halt to all military operations around a Russian-held nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, warning the consequences of a strike could be "catastrophic".

His remarks came as a top-level team of inspectors from the IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog, were en route to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant which is located on the frontline between Russian and Ukrainian troops.

"It is high time to stop playing with fire and instead take concrete measures to protect this facility and others like it from any military operations," Robert Mardini, director general of the ICRC, told reporters in Kyiv.

"The slightest miscalculation could trigger devastation that we will regret for decades."

The area around the plant -- Europe's largest nuclear facility -- has suffered repeated shelling, with both sides accusing each other of responsibility, sparking global concern over the risk of an accident.

Mardini said it was "encouraging" that the IAEA team was en route to inspect the plant because the stakes were "immense".

"When hazardous sites become battlegrounds, the consequences for millions of people and the environment can be catastrophic and last many years," he said.

"In the event of a nuclear leak, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to provide humanitarian assistance."

Just before the UN team left for the Zaporizhzhia plant in Russian-held territory, Ukraine accused Russian forces of staging a sustained attack on Energodar, the town next to the facility.

But Moscow hit back, accusing Kyiv of smuggling in a large number of military "saboteurs" with Russian forces taking "measures to annihilate the enemy".

© Agence France-Presse

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