The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, on 28 April, returning from Ukraine, briefed journalists on his visit to the Chernobyl NPP, including the results of initial radiation monitoring conducted by IAEA experts in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and his talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Grossi also published a report which provides a summary of the situation in Ukraine, including actions taken by the IAEA in response to Ukraine’s request for assistance, and initial findings of the IAEA expert missions he had led to Ukraine. 

During the visit to Chernobyl IAEA inspectors verified nuclear material present, re-establishing continuity of knowledge regarding nuclear material at the site. In addition, IAEA technicians upgraded the unattended monitoring systems installed at the site and deployed new transmission channels based on satellite technologies. Since then, the remote data transmission has been partially re-established. For the other NPPs in Ukraine, remote data is being transferred to IAEA headquarters.

On 29 April, Ukraine formally informed the IAEA about the situation at the Zaporozhye NPP, which has been controlled by Russian forces since 4 March but is still operated by its Ukrainian staff. Ukraine also said Russian nuclear utility Rosenergoatom – part of Rosatom – had sent a group of nuclear specialists to the NPP, naming eight. It said they demanded daily reports from plant management about “confidential issues” on the functioning of the NPP, covering aspects related to administration and management, maintenance and repair activities, security and access control, and management of nuclear fuel, spent fuel and radioactive wastes.

Ukraine separately informed the IAEA that personnel at the NPP were “working under unbelievable pressure”. Earlier in April, Ukraine informed the IAEA that “the morale and the emotional state” of staff at Zaporozhye were “very low”.

In his summary report on nuclear safety, security and safeguards in Ukraine, Grossi said the situation at Zaporozhe “continues to be challenging and requires continued attention owing to the presence of Russian forces and Rosatom personnel at the site while operational management remains with Ukrainian plant operators”. The 26-page report noted that. although the IAEA continues to adjust its safeguards activities, the situation will become unsustainable. “Therefore, the Director General has proposed to lead a visit to the Zaporozhye NPP after the necessary consultations and at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The report said that following Russia’s takeover of Zaporozhye, Ukraine reported that the facility’s training centre (a few hundred metres from the reactor units) had been hit by a projectile and a localised fire had broken out that was later extinguished. The training centre suffered significant damage. There had also been damage to the site’s laboratory building and to an administrative structure. It was also later reported that the transformer of reactor 6 had been damaged and was subsequently repaired.

Ukraine reported that the physical integrity of the plant’s six reactors and their safety and security systems had not been affected, radiation monitoring systems were fully functional, and there had been no release of radioactive material. The site’s used fuel pools operated normally, and visual inspections of the dry storage facility did not detect any damage. On 15 March, Ukraine informed the IAEA that the Russian military had detonated unexploded munitions left on the site following the events of 4 March. Grossi said the events at the plant had put at risk a number of the seven indispensable pillars for ensuring nuclear safety and security, in particular the first pillar which states that “the physical integrity of nuclear facilities must be maintained”.

According to the report, regular management and staff at Zaporozhye continued to carry out their day-to-day work, but the site remains under the control of the commander of the Russian forces there. Some representatives of Rosatom came to the site a few days after the Russian military took control, and about ten Rosatom staff members are still there. The IAEA considers that the presence of Rosatom senior technical staff “could lead to interference with the normal lines of operational command or authority, and potential frictions when it comes to decision-making”. However, Energoatom operating teams at the plant have been able to rotate in three shifts per day. Grossi noted that the situation nevertheless contravenes the third indispensable pillar that operating staff “must be able to fulfil their safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure”.

Communication between the site and Ukraine’s regulator has been severely affected. Some communication is now possible through mobile phones and email, but there have been no Ukrainian regulatory inspections of the facilities on site. Grossi said this contravenes the seventh indispensable pillar: “There must be reliable communications with the regulator and others.”

Another concerning matter has been the impact on the power lines that connect the NPP to the grid. The site has four high voltage (750 kV) external power lines plus one on standby. Two of the four were damaged in the early days of Russian control and the plant also lost a third line for a period of time. The IAEA assesses that the plant is able to operate safely with the lines available, and the site is equipped with 20 emergency diesel generators that can provide the required power for safe operation. However, Grossi noted that this puts at risk the fourth indispensable pillar that “there must be secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites”.

The report detailed the recent visit of IAEA inspectors to Chernobyl noting that IAEA technicians had upgraded the unattended monitoring systems installed at the site and deployed new transmission channels based on satellite technologies. The report concluded that the situation in Ukraine is unprecedented. “It is the first time a military conflict has occurred amid the facilities of a large, established nuclear power programme, which in this case also include the site of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl NPP.”

Despite this, all nuclear facilities, including four operational NPPs (Zaporozhye, Khmelnitsky, South Ukraine and Rovno) continued operation since the beginning of the conflict. Radiation levels have remained within normal range and no radioactive releases have occurred that may impact staff, the public or the environment. The situation in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, remains difficult, in part due to damaged bridges. “Efforts are needed to restore safe and secure management of nuclear facilities …and to better characterise the current radiological situation.” IAEA has agreed to set up a working group on the Chernobyl NPP to coordinate and implement the technical assistance.

The IAEA said it has the technical expertise needed to support Ukraine in keeping its nuclear sites safe and secure, as well as to account for radioactive sources over which radioactive control has been lost. In relation to safeguards, the IAEA has continued to implement safeguards in Ukraine. “Based on the evaluation of all safeguards relevant information available to the IAEA to date, the IAEA has not found any indication of the diversion of declared nuclear material or any indication that would give rise to a proliferation concern.” The IAEA will continue to closely monitor developments in Ukraine, the report concluded.