A general view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, Aug. 7, 2022.

A general view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, Aug. 7, 2022. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service )

Nuclear inspectors will be given wider powers than initially sought to investigate attacks against a Russian-occupied atomic plant in Ukraine that has stoked international alarm over a potential nuclear-safety accident.

An impending International Atomic Energy Agency visit to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine will include security and safety authorities, in addition to the officials in charge of accounting for nuclear material at the site, according to two diplomats with knowledge of the visit who asked not to be identified in exchange for discussing the plans.

European intelligence officials say Russia is deliberately using the plant to shield its forces from Ukrainian attack and launching artillery strikes from nearby. Russia accuses Kyiv of shelling that has targeted the facility and warned of unsubstantiated false-flag operations, which European intelligence services say is disinformation. Ukraine says Russia is behind the shelling.

IAEA officials had originally only sought access to Zaporizhzhia to ensure that enriched-uranium stockpiles hadn't gone missing during the course of the six-month war. The inclusion of security and safety experts will allow the agency to potentially perform a forensic evaluation of shelling against the plant, which could be used to hold attackers responsible.

The IAEA wants to visit the plant before Sept. 5, when a two-week international mission was already scheduled to take place to examine safety systems at Europe's biggest nuclear power station. That inspection was scheduled before the war broke out six months ago and would have been the first safety assessment of Zaporizhzhia in 16 years, the officials said.

After occupying the plant, Moscow sent engineers from Russia's Rosatom to supervise the site, which is still owned by Ukraine's Energoatom and operated by Ukrainian technicians.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi met Wednesday in Istanbul with officials from Rosatom to hammer out details of the mission, which will depart from Kyiv and then enter Russian-held territory around the city of Energodar near the nuclear station. The IAEA routinely sources security experts from member states, and the roster is part of negotiations that all sides must agree on.

In recent days, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu about security guarantees for IAEA officials during the visit.

The logistical complexity of ensuring a temporary cease-fire, while safely ushering IAEA officials through the war zone for a visit, has been the most difficult part of negotiations, according to the officials, who pointed to the July 30 shelling of one of Energodar's few hotels where inspectors could have stayed.

"This is a very fluid situation," U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins said at a briefing on Thursday. While it's important that the IAEA visits Zaporizhzhia, inspectors have to be allowed to probe "safety and security of all aspects of the plant" while doing so, she said.

Ukrainian diplomats at the IAEA in Vienna circulated new photographs shot at the Zaporizhizhia station on Wednesday that showed a Russian armored-personnel carrier near critical nuclear infrastructure.

"In total, more than 40 units of military equipment are currently stationed on the site," read the eight-page document circulated among diplomats. Shrapnel from Russian shelling wounded an employee on Monday, it read.

Russian diplomats at the IAEA also circulated new images this week of damage to the plant they say was caused by Ukrainian forces.

Attacks on the plant have increased since the beginning of July, according to IAEA reports filed by both Ukrainian and Russian diplomats. While the IAEA has criticized Russia's reckless takeover of Zaporizhzhia, it so far hasn't assigned responsibility for the attacks because it's been unable to secure safe passage through the war zone.

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