International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts have observed directional anti-personnel mines on the periphery of the site of Ukraine’s Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP), Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in his latest update.

During a walkdown, the IAEA team saw some mines located in a buffer zone between the site’s internal and external perimeter barriers. The experts reported that they were situated in a restricted area that operating plant personnel cannot access and were facing away from the site. The team did not observe any within the inner site perimeter during the walkdown.

“As I have reported earlier, the IAEA has been aware of the previous placement of mines outside the site perimeter and also at particular places inside. Our team has raised this specific finding with the plant and they have been told that it is a military decision, and in an area controlled by military,” Grossi said.

“But having such explosives on the site is inconsistent with the IAEA safety standards and nuclear security guidance and creates additional psychological pressure on plant staff – even if the IAEA’s initial assessment based on its own observations and the plant’s clarifications is that any detonation of these mines should not affect the site’s nuclear safety and security systems. The team will continue its interactions with the plant,” he added.

In recent days and weeks, the IAEA experts present at the ZNPP have carried out inspections and regular walkdowns across the site, without seeing any heavy military equipment. The IAEA is also continuing to request access to the roofs of the ZNPP’s reactors and their turbine halls, including units 3 and 4 which are of particular interest.

Experts visited the reactor unit 6 main control room, emergency control room, the rooms where electrical cabinets of the safety systems are located, and parts of the turbine hall where they saw the main feedwater pumps, main turbine oil tank and main condenser. While the team was not able to visit all areas in the turbine hall, they did not observe any mines or explosives.

Grossi’s remarks were widely reported in the Russian media. Commenting on the reports, Igor Korotchenko, a military analyst and editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine, told RIA Novosti that the mines are defensive. “Directional anti-personnel mines are primarily designed to destroy enemy personnel. Their installation along the outer perimeter of the station is designed specifically to protect the station from Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups,” he explained. “Since the mines are directed, if they are triggered, the damage will be inflicted in the direction of the enemy, it does not pose any danger to the NPP facilities," he said.

The adviser to the General Director of Rosenergoatom, Renat Karchaa, who is present at ZNPP, pointed to the unprecedented situation facing the plant. "No one has ever dared to threaten the physical integrity of a nuclear facility, so the protective measures are different, including non-standard ones," he told Tass. He stressed that " none of these measures applied by the military threatens nuclear security”. Mining the protective perimeter is no threat to the station's employees. "We are talking about a buffer zone, where the station personnel are not allowed, respectively, there is no threat to the life and health of personnel. I was not present at the time of this inspection, but we may be talking about measures to counter possible attempts to seize the station by force. This threat is quite real."

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the [Russian] Zaporozhye regional administration had a similar message. “Mines around the nuclear power plant are a necessary measure and guarantee the safety of the plant he told RIA Novosti. Mines outside the NPP perimeter are an established fact, Rogov said. He added that the barriers were installed on the bank of the Dniepr River, on the territory of the former Kakhovsky reservoir. He stressed that the mines do not pose any danger to the plant. "Mines outside the NPP are a necessary measure and just a guarantee that the Kiev regime will not be able to implement its plans for nuclear provocation and seizure of ZNPP,” he said.

Korotchenko recalled that Ukrainian forces had on four occasions tried to seize the NPP by landing troops at the outskirts of the plant. One of these attempts in October 2022 was later verified by The Times. Currently there are reports from military experts that another such attempt is being planned. The head of the Department of Political Analysis & Socio-Psychological Processes at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Reserve Colonel Andrey Koshkin, citing a number of sources, told Ria Novosti that assault groups are now intensively training at Ukraine’s Khmelnitsky NPP in the city of Neteshin. He noted that it has the same VVER-1000 reactors as ZNPP. As well as two operating units, there are also two partly built units “where, most likely, training is taking place”.

He added that “a detailed assault plan is apparently being developed by British sabotage specialists from the Special Airborne Service (SAS), who, according to intelligence, are at the station”. He said “Ukrainian Armed Forces and the British are trying to find critical points to deliver a significant blow to the Zaporizhia NPP. That's why they train at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant. A serious provocation is being prepared.” Like Korotchenko, he said this is why defensive mines had been placed at the perimeter of ZNPP.

However, Koshkin said Russia understands the dangers of the situation. “We are also considering all options that would ensure the neutralisation of any attack by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. They are not the only ones who train at the Khmelnitsky NPP. We are also preparing.”

Meanwhile, Grossi’s update on the situation said the IAEA team had heard several detonations some distance away from the plant. Also, ZNPP temporarily lost its connection to the main 750 kilovolt (kV) power line and relied on a single 330 kV back-up line for off-site electricity for some eight hours, without any consequences to nuclear safety and security on site. The cause was a technical failure in one of the switchyards some distance away from the site, ZNPP said. IAEA noted that the event once again highlighted the site’s fragile external power situation during the military conflict. NPPs need power for reactor cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions.

Grossi confirmed that ZNPP had begun its planned transition of reactor unit 4 from cold to hot shutdown, informing the IAEA experts that the relevant tests were carried out and that the unit was heating up. Once it achieves hot shutdown status reactor unit 5 – now in hot shutdown – will be placed in cold shutdown in order to carry out preventive maintenance activities. The other units remain in cold shutdown. As reported previously the Ukraine national regulator – SNRIU – has issued regulatory orders to limit the operation of all six units to a cold shutdown state.

Since Russia took control of ZNPP in March 2022 as part of its special military operation in Ukraine, the Russian national guard, Rosgvardiya, has been protecting the station. 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 by Rosenergoatom to operate the plant. However, Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom still claims ownership of the plant.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling that has repeatedly downed power lines vital to cooling the reactors, which are shut down but still need a constant supply of electricity to keep the nuclear fuel inside cool and prevent a possible meltdown. Russia and Ukraine also accused each other of destroying the Nova Kakhovka dam, drastically reducing levels in the Kakhovka reservoir, which provides cooling water for the plant.