The U.N.’s nuclear agency is limited in its ability to enforce its recommendations on Zaporizhzhia.

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Andrew E. Kramer and
Five remaining inspectors from a U.N. watchdog agency were assessing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine on Friday, a day after making a risky and long-awaited trip to the imperiled facility to ensure critical emergency equipment was operational. But it remained unclear what steps the agency would be able to take to prevent the dangers of fierce combat around the plant.
The mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency is intended to gauge the damage to the plant from weeks of shelling and to assess its ability to operate safely. It is the first time that independent monitors have been able to assess conditions at the plant since Russian forces first stormed it in March.
The immediate checklist, according to people familiar with the mission, was to ensure emergency equipment is in good working order. That included making sure there was enough fuel for diesel generators and sufficient reserves of high-quality water for emergency pumps.
Ukrainian officials wanted the I.A.E.A. to be able to keep monitors on site after the mission is complete, in the hopes that their presence will create better conditions for workers. Rafael M. Grossi, the I.A.E.A.’s director general, said as he toured the facility that the five monitors would stay at the plant until at least Saturday. “We are establishing a continued presence from the I.A.E.A. here,” he told reporters.
The experts from the agency said little on Thursday about their findings at Zaporizhzhia, the largest nuclear plant in Europe. Mr. Grossi said, “It is obvious that the plant and physical integrity of the plant have been violated several times.”
A spokesman for the agency has said that the team will present its findings at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna by the end of the week.
But whatever steps the team of inspectors conclude are necessary to ensure the plant’s safety, the agency is limited in enforcing its recommendations.
The agency’s experts can offer an impartial glimpse of goings-on inside the plant, said Oleksandr Sukhodolya, an energy analyst at the National Institute of Strategic Studies in Kyiv. But that could mean little more than reinforcing the obvious: that fighting around it has emerged as among the gravest risks of environmental and health hazards of the war, he said.
The agency can also help draw more attention to dangers that have already alarmed governments around the world, which might spur new sanctions against Russia, he said.
The mission that began on Thursday is expected to assess whether the so-called seven pillars of civilian nuclear safety — a list that includes the full functioning of backup systems and the guaranteed physical security of a power plant — are being met, said Ivan Plachkov, a former Ukrainian minister of energy. “The I.A.E.A. provides only information,” Mr. Plachkov said.
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