Attacking nuclear plant ‘suicidal,’ UN chief Antonio Guterres tells journalists in Japan

The United Nations

UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned a recent attack on a nuclear power station in southern Ukraine during a meeting in Tokyo on Monday with the Japan National Press Club.

“Any attack to nuclear plants is…suicidal,” the UN chief said, adding that he hoped that the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be able to access the plant for inspection.

Both Moscow and Kyiv have denied responsibility for the strike on the Zaporizhzhia plant over the weekend.

While Europe’s largest nuclear power site has been under Russian control since the early days of the war, Ukrainian technicians are still running it.

Nuclear disaster: ‘Real risk’

Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator, said that Russian shelling damaged three radiation monitors around the storage facility for spent nuclear fuels, in which one worker was injured.

The shelling prompted IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi to warn that the way in which Zaporizhzhia was being run coupled with the fighting around it posed “the very real risk of a nuclear disaster”.

Since then, a preliminary assessment by UN atomic overseer experts found that the safety and security situation seemed stable with no immediate threat, despite that several pillars were breached.

“We support the IAEA on their efforts in relation to create the conditions of stabilization of that plant,” said the UN chief, adding his hope that the IAEA would be able to access the plant.

Ukraine-Russia peace deal

When asked why a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine had not yet been realized, the UN chief said they had been working very closely with Türkiye, which had “launched a new initiative in relation to a possible start of peace negotiations”.

But he explained that Ukraine cannot accept that “its territory is taken by another country”, and that Russia “does not seem ready to accept” that areas it had taken “will not be annexed by the Russian Federation or give way to new independent States”.

Backwards world

Mr. Guterres’ comments followed a visit to Hiroshima over the weekend, where the Secretary-General marked the 77th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attack on 6 August 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people.

Amidst Russian threats of a nuclear attack since it invaded Ukraine in February, fears of a third atomic bombing have grown.

During Monday’s news conference, the UN chief reiterated his warning over the use of nuclear weapons, saying if used, the un would probably be unable respond.

“We might all not be here anymore,” he said.

Against the backdrop that the world currently has 13,000 nuclear bombs while continuing to make huge investments into modernizing atomic arsenals, Mr. Guterres warned that after decades of nuclear disarmament efforts, we are “moving backwards”.

“Stop it,” he appealed, underscoring that the billions of dollars being leveraged into the arms race need to be used in “fighting climate change, fighting poverty, [and] addressing the needs of the international community”.

The Secretary-General will next be traveling to Mongolia and South Korea to discuss ways to address North Korea’s nuclear development.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivers remarks at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivers remarks at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

‘Common sense’ restraint

When asked about China’s massive military exercises around Taiwan, Mr. Guterres said the UN “abides by a resolution of the General Assembly, the so-called One China policy”.

The dispute was sparked by a visit last week to island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“We all want that resolution to correspond to a peaceful environment,” he said, calling for common sense and restraint to allow for an “extremely important” de-escalation.

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