IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and his team of experts including the Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety & Security, Lydie Evrard, visited the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) after holding talks in Kyiv and before travelling to Moscow for discussions with Russian officials.

In Kyiv, Grossi informed President Volodymir Zelensky that the main goals of the mission was to assess the status of current power and cooling systems essential for the safety of the plant, and the levels of qualified staff, among other things.

Grossi and team also met with Energy Minister German Galushchenko and nuclear regulator Oleh Korikov as well as the head of Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom, Petro Kotin.

During a press conference in Kyiv, Grossi noted his concerns about staffing levels at ZNPP following a recent decision by the plant to exclude those who had not signed new contracts with the Russian administration. In October 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree formally transferring ZNPP to Russian jurisdiction under nuclear utility Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom). A Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise. Zaporizhia NPP was established to operate the plant. However, Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom still claims ownership of the plant.

Grossi said one of his main points of interest at ZNPP would be to enquire about this. “One of the most important things for me is to assess the operational impact of this decision. What kind of positions were these Ukrainian technical staff were occupying and what is the facility going to do about that?”

He also expressed concern about the plant’s external power, in face of eight blackouts leading to dependence on emergency generators and the risks to cooling water following the destruction of Nova Kakhovka dam in June 2023. On a previous visit to ZNPP he had investigated what the Russian administration was planning to do. “A number of measures were implemented and we need to see what is going to happen. They have been drilling for water and the fact is that 12 wells have been established, which indicates the need and scarcity of water.”

He stressed that “there is absolutely no place for complacency or to believe that everything is stabilised there.” He added: “Fom a technical point of view we have many questions and we are trying to address these one by one with the administration.”

However, he said there are wider issues involved. “The fate of the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe and the consequences of a problem there exceed, go beyond, a merely technical aspect. And this is why when I’m here I talk to President Zelensky and I have spoken with President Vladimir Putin as well. These are issues of a global concern for international peace and security. These are issues of a high political significance so this is why for me, beyond the technical aspects, it is also important to have a conversation on the fundamental implications of what is happening there – now and in the future.”

He added: “I’m a diplomat and I’ve been working on peace for the last 40 years of my life. So I’m always optimistic. I think we have to work day by day, to make sure that the war ends and there is a fair peace, a just peace. From my perspective, I have a mandate which is very specific but which has implications on a wider sense. We hope that by ensuring that the plant is protected, that there is no radiological accident on top of the victims of this war, we will be adding a very indispensable contribution for a good outcome after this war ends, which we hope will be soon.”

Grossi and his team then left Kyiv to travel to ZNPP along with a new 16th team of four inspectors who will replace the previous one. He was received by ZNPP Director Yuri Chernichuk, and made a tour of the plant facilities. Chernichuk assured him that that the station has enough qualified personnel to ensure the safe operation of the station.

Before leaving, Grossi said it was “an important visit where, we were able to look into important aspects related to the safety and the security situation at the plant at this moment”. He added: “We can see that, in the observance of the five basic principles established, at the United Nations Security Council, the physical integrity, of the plant has been relatively stable. There have been less, episodes of direct attacks or shelling around it, which is a positive development, although we take it with enormous caution.”

He stressed that it was an ongoing effort. “And this is why we have been looking at other aspects the water situation, related to the availability of, enough precisely water to ensure the cooling function of the facility. I was able to look at the wells that had been drilled to provide the water that has been in deficit here after the episode at the Novakarkovka. The issues related to the staff and the necessity to ensure sufficient availability of licenced and, authorised staff, has also been part of the discussions.”

In summary, he said the visit “confirms the importance, the indispensable activity that the IAEA is displaying here, and of course our commitment to continue because, until the conflict ends without a nuclear accident with radiological sequences, we will not be able to say that our job is complete.”

Images courtesy of IAEA