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Ukraine has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that almost half the staff members working at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) have been rotated and allowed to return home after almost four weeks.

The staff members had been performing their duties continuously since Russian forces took control of the site on 24 February.

Ukraine’s national nuclear plant regulator, Energoatom, said that the staff members at the Chornobyl NPP have been replaced by other Ukrainian personnel.

IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi said: “It is a positive – albeit long overdue – development that some staff at the Chornobyl NPP have now rotated and returned to their families.

“They deserve our full respect and admiration for having worked in these extremely difficult circumstances.

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“They were there for far too long. I sincerely hope that remaining staff from this shift can also rotate soon.”

Energoatom said that the power production of two operating units at the Zaporizhzhya NPP is gradually being increased to two-thirds of their maximum capacity of around 1,000MWe each following repair works on two power lines.

The Zaporizhzhya NPP currently has three high-voltage off-site power lines available with 750kV capacity, including one on standby.

The regulator also informed the IAEA that safety systems at the nuclear power facility, which has been under Russian control since 4 March, are now fully functional.

It added that eight of Ukraine’s 15 reactors are still operational.

These include the two reactors at the Zaporizhzhya NPP and three at Rivne, as well as one reactor at Khmelnytskyy and two located in Ukraine’s southern region.

Energoatom said that the radiation levels of all these NPPs are within the normal range.

The IAEA said that it has been receiving a remote data transmission from monitoring systems at all Ukraine’s NPPs apart from the Chornobyl plant.