In the wake of his address to the UN Security Council on the situation at the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi recalled in his latest update that ZNPP has been without external back-up power for three months, “leaving it extremely vulnerable in case the sole functioning main power line goes down again and underlining the importance of adhering to five principles established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the protection of the facility during the military conflict”. Those principles – aimed at preventing a nuclear accident – state that off-site power to the ZNPP “should not be put at risk” and that “all efforts should be made to ensure that off-site power remains available and secure at all times”. The other principles include commitments not to attack from or against the plant, not to use it as storage or a base for heavy weapons, and to protect structures, systems and components essential to its safe and secure operation from attacks or acts of sabotage.

“While the principles won broad support at the United Nations Security Council…the general situation at the site remains highly precarious and potentially dangerous,” Grossi said. “The site’s fragile power situation continues to be a source of deep concern and – as the newly-established IAEA principles indicate – there is a need for intensified efforts to ensure a more stable and predictable external electricity supply.”

The ZNPP continues to rely on the only remaining operational 750 kilovolt (kV) power line for the external electricity it needs for reactor cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions. Before the conflict, the plant had four such off-site power lines available. A back-up 330 kV power line that was damaged in March on the other side of the Dnipro River as seen from the Russian-controlled ZNPP has still not been repaired, with Ukraine saying that military action has prevented its experts from safely accessing the location situated in territory it controls to repair the line. “The lack of any back-up options means that when the 750 kV line is cut – as happened most recently on 22 May – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (NPP) is forced to rely on emergency diesel generators as a last line of defence, clearly an unsustainable situation,” IAEA noted.

The IAEA experts at the site recently visited the ZNPP 750 kV open switchyard, where they confirmed that three of the power lines remained disconnected and learned that some parts for repairing them were being manufactured but the delivery date is not known. The nearby Zaporizhia Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP) operates the 330 kV open switchyard, through which back-up power in the past has been provided. The Russian Federation reported in March that Rosatom was working to remove damaged equipment from the open switchyard, with the aim of restoring three 330 kV lines to the grid system in currently Russian-controlled territory. IAEA said its team of experts present at ZNPP has still not been granted access to the ZTPP to assess the situation, despite assurances from Rosatom that they would be able to go there. Consultations are ongoing to secure the access. “Our experts must access the ZTPP to see for themselves what the current situation is like and whether it might be possible to restore back-up power there,” Grossi said.

Over the past week, the IAEA team reported hearing two landmine explosions just outside the ZNPP site, again highlighting the tense situation amid intense speculation of imminent military action in the region and the need to observe the Agency’s five principles. “As I told the United Nations Security Council just a few days ago, I respectfully and solemnly ask both sides to observe these five principles, which are essential to avoid the danger of a catastrophic incident. These principles are to no one’s detriment and to everyone’s benefit,” Grossi said. He added that “both sides expressed strong support for our work to ensure nuclear safety and security…. Based on their statements, I expect that these five basic principles will be adhered to. If there are any violations, which I sincerely hope there won’t be, I will not hesitate to report about them publicly.”

Grossi expressed concern about the disconnection on 17 May of the automatic data transfer from eight radiation monitoring stations located near the ZNPP to Ukrainian authorities and said the IAEA is addressing this issue with plant management and relevant officials. Ukraine has been providing the data to the IAEA International Radiation Monitoring Information System (IRMIS), which gathers near real-time radiation monitoring data from over 6000 stations worldwide that are part of nationally operated networks. “I hope that we can re-establish a reliable connection to continue to monitor radiation levels soon. It is vital for nuclear safety and security,” Director General Grossi said. “In case of a nuclear or radiological emergency anywhere in the world, IRMIS supports the assessment of the radiological situation and provides critical data to immediately inform emergency response decision makers.” In the absence of the automatic connection, the daily radiation monitoring data from the eight stations are provided to the IAEA team at the ZNPP and, subsequently, made available on IRMIS.

The IAEA experts at the site also reported on their recent visits to the main control rooms of the ZNPP’s six reactors. While the plant has been negatively affected by a considerable reduction in staffing levels during the conflict – limiting maintenance and other vital work – there is still enough operating personnel in the control rooms, the IAEA team reported. The planned rotation of the current team of IAEA experts at the site – the eighth since the mission was established last September – has been delayed because of local weather conditions. Grossi also said he expected to visit the ZNPP soon himself, which would be the third time during the conflict. “With the establishment of the five principles – and my intention to report about any violations – it is important that I travel to the plant again to assess developments there since my last visit in late March,” he said.

Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev told reporters that Russia highly appreciates Grossi’s work “to create safety conditions at the Zaporizhia NPP and will support it in every possible way”. He added: "We highly appreciate the work of the IAEA Director General in creating all the necessary conditions for protecting the plant and ensuring its safety. We don't just share these principles, we already implement them. We will do everything in the future to minimise any technological, especially military risk."

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Moscow will do everything possible to strengthen the security of ZNPP and ensure the protection of the facility.

"We will continue to ensure the protection of the station in such a way as to prevent Kiev and the collective West from violating them rudely and irresponsibly," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry. He said this will be done in accordance with national legislation and the obligations assumed by the Russian Federation within the framework of relevant international legal instruments to which it is a party. He also stressed that Russia has never deployed and has no plans to deploy military contingents and military equipment "intended for offensive operations" on the territory of ZNPP. At the station there are "only those forces that are necessary to protect it from Ukrainian attacks, as well as to eliminate their possible consequences," he emphasised.

As for Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom, it did not comment directly on the UN Security Council meeting or Grossi’s five principles. Instead on both its website and Telegram channel, it simply quoted parts of the speech to the Council by France’s representative Nathalie Broadhurst, who essentially echoed the sentiments of Ukraine’s representative, Sergiy Kyslytsya. She said: “Russia bears sole responsibility for this situation and, as we know, it was Russia that forcibly seized the plant, massing armed forces and military equipment on site. The mining of the surrounding area and the consolidation of military positions on the power plant site are unacceptable…We must act in order to avoid an accident with irreparable consequences.”

She continued: Firstly, France continues to urge Russia to return full control of all nuclear facilities to Ukraine, and to cease putting pressure and threats on personnel, which increases the risk of human error. Above all, Russia must stop using the Zaporizhzhia plant as a military base. Secondly, France reiterates that while the demilitarisation of the Zaporizhia power plant remains a priority, it is fully committed, in the meantime, to reducing the risk of a nuclear accident at the plant. To this end, we welcome and fully support the efforts of the IAEA Director General. The principles that the Director General has just outlined to us are indeed likely to ensure the safety and security of nuclear installations. We support them, and will continue to support the Agency in its efforts to make progress on this plan, which respects Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Thirdly, it is essential that IAEA experts have permanent access to all Ukraine’s nuclear infrastructures. It must be able to communicate directly, without interference, with the Ukrainian personnel in charge of operating these facilities…. Our position is clear. The Zaporizhia plant must be safely returned to Ukraine. Russia must withdraw its troops and stop playing with fire.”

Image: A Russian guard patrols the perimeter of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (courtesy of Rosatom)