A group of experts will be at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine until Sunday or Monday, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi says.

United Nations vehicles carrying members of the IAEA inspection mission leave the city of Zaporizhzhia en route to a Russian-held nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.
United Nations vehicles carrying members of the IAEA inspection mission leave the city of Zaporizhzhia en route to a Russian-held nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. (AFP)

UN inspectors will be "staying" at a Russian-held nuclear plant in southern Ukraine — at least till the weekend, its head has said after their first visit to the facility in a risky journey across the frontline despite shelling of the area.

Wearing bright blue flak jackets and helmets, the 14-strong team crossed into Russian-held territory, reaching the facility around 1200 GMT on Thursday, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief describing it as a productive first visit.

"Today we were able, in these few hours, to gather a lot of information," IAEA director general Rafael Grossi, who was leading the team, told reporters outside the plant after the inspection.

"We are not going anywhere. The IAEA is now there, it is at the plant and it is not moving — it's going to stay there," Grossi said. "We're going to have a continued presence there at the plant with some of my experts."

"There is a group that is going to be there (at the plant) until Sunday or Monday, continuing with the assessment," Grossi said after returning with part of his team to the Ukrainian-controlled area. He did not specify how many people will be staying at the facility.

Those experts, Grossi said, would provide what he called an impartial neutral technically sound assessment of what was happening on the ground.

He added that the "physical integrity" of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant had been "violated" with the frequent shelling of the sensitive site.

The area around the plant, which lies on the southern banks of the Dnipro River, has suffered repeated shelling, with both sides blaming the other, sparking global concern over the risk of an accident.

READ MORE: IAEA team arrives at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant despite shelling

'Stop playing with fire'

Despite a dawn shelling attack on the area that forced the closure of one of its six reactors, the team pressed ahead with its risky mission to reach Europe's biggest nuclear facility that is located on the frontlines of the fighting.

"It is high time to stop playing with fire and instead take concrete measures to protect this facility...from any military operations," International Committee of the Red Cross Chief Robert Mardini told reporters in Kiev, warning the consequences of hitting the plant could be "catastrophic".

Energoatom, Ukraine's nuclear agency, said it was "the second time in 10 days" that Russian shelling had forced the closure of a reactor.

It said the plant's emergency protection system kicked in shortly before 0200 GMT (5:00am local time), shutting reactor five, "due to another (Russian) mortar shelling" and that a backup power supply "was damaged" in the attack.

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

After Russian forces seized the plant on March 4, Energoatom shut two reactors, followed by a third after shelling on August 5. With a fourth in repairs, Thursday's incident leaves only one of the six reactors working.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies