International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal have agreed that the IAEA will establish a continuous presence of nuclear safety and security experts at all of the country’s NPPs as part of stepped-up efforts to help prevent a nuclear accident during the current armed conflict.

During a two-hour meeting in Paris, Grossi said he and Prime Minister Shmyhal also made progress in ongoing discussions about setting up a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), where the IAEA deployed a permanent expert mission more than three months ago. Ukraine’s Energy Minister, Herman Haluschenko, also participated in the meeting.

“While we are not yet there and more work is required, I’m increasingly optimistic that such a zone – which is of paramount importance – will be agreed and implemented in the near future,” Grossi said after the talks. “I will continue my high-level consultations in the coming days – both with Ukraine and Russia – with the clear aim to get this done as soon as possible. We can’t afford to lose more time.” Grossi was in Paris to attend an international conference on Ukraine – “Solidaires du Peuple Ukrainien” – hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

At the request of Ukraine, the IAEA has over the past month dispatched week-long nuclear safety and security missions to the three other operational nuclear power plants in Ukraine – Khmelnytskyy, Rivne and South Ukraine – as well as to Chornobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear accident. IAEA will press ahead with plans to establish a continued Agency presence at the four sites.

“Our mission at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has shown the vital importance of the IAEA being there to monitor the situation and give technical advice. Thanks to this presence, the IAEA is providing the world with impartial, technical and factual information about developments on the ground,” Grossi said.

“We have now agreed with the Government of Ukraine to further expand and strengthen the IAEA’s nuclear safety and security role in the country. This is especially important at a time when Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the war and in the middle of the winter,” he added.

In a new development underlining such difficulties, the IAEA team at the ZNPP today reported that the plant had lost its connection to the 330 kilovolt (kV) back-up power line to the electricity grid. It was not immediately clear what had caused the disconnection. The ZNPP – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – continues to receive the electricity it needs for essential safety and security functions from a 750 kV main external power line.

The IAEA reported that its team at ZNPP was informed that work continues at the plant for the testing and setting in operation of mobile diesel-fuelled boilers which are intended to prevent the critical ZNPP systems from freezing during the winter, including heating of working environment for the ZNPP personnel. Mobile diesel-fuelled boilers with power in the range of 1-3 MW were installed and are currently in operation at one of the Units, with several more being deployed at other locations on the site.

ZNPP has 20 fixed emergency diesel generators in stand-by mode and ready to provide electricity if all off-site electrical power is not available. However, to increase the ability to cope with such loss of off-site power, mobile diesel generators are currently being deployed as well, as a precautionary measure. Two such mobile generators are already connected to one unit and are in stand-by mode. A few other mobile generators are to be tested and will be connected to other reactor units.

Reuters subsequently cited French President Emmanuel Macron as saying that there was an agreement on removing heavy weapons from ZNPP and that talks were underway on the modalities around this.

"We managed to protect Chornobyl and our goal is to protect Zaporizhzhia. The coming weeks will be crucial," Macron said, as he arrived to attend the conference

This provoked an outcry from Russian officials. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia remains in contact with IAEA, which is trying to broker a security zone around ZNPP, but added: "I want to remind you of the words of President Vladimir Putin: There hasn't been – and aren't – any heavy weapons at that power station. This can easily be confirmed by the IAEA staff who are there day and night." 

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia's Permanent Representative to international organisations in Vienna, wrote on his Telegram channel: "Coordination of the parameters of the "protective zone" at ZNPP, which is actively supported by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, is the exclusive competence of the agency, Russia and Ukraine. Other states have nothing to do with this. It is not appropriate for the leader of France to throw into the information space statements that do not correspond to the real state of affairs." He added: “A limited number of light weapons at the station is absolutely necessary to protect against Ukrainian landings and ensure nuclear security, by the way, in accordance with the IAEA standards." 

Similar sentiments were expressed by Vladimir Rogov, a member of the main council of the Zaporozhye region administration, who told Ria Novosti: "First of all, there were no heavy weapons at the station, and this is known, including in the IAEA. Secondly, the withdrawal of light weapons would mean the removal of security from the station, which is carried out by Regardie.” He added: "ZNPP is the state property of Russia, and any provocations and attempts to seize it will be strictly suppressed."

ZNPP Director Yuriy Chernichuk (recently appointed by Rosatom) said that the plant's management meets twice a day with the IAEA staff. He stressed that the station is open to providing the world community with all information about its condition.

Image: French President Emmanuel Macron, host of a recent international conference on Ukraine, which was held in Paris, France