On 6 September the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a lengthy report on the situation in Ukraine, and later that day IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi addressed the UN Security Council by video link on the same subject. Meanwhile, shelling of the Zaporozhzhia NPP (ZNPP) continued despite IAEA experts being stationed at the site following the IAEA's Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhia (ISAMZ). ZNPP has been held by Russian forces since early March, but its Ukrainian staff continue to operate the plant.

Above: IAEA Director General, Rafael Grossi, addresses the UN Security Council via video link (photo courtesy of IAEA)

On 5 September, the day that all but two of the ISAMZ team left, IAEA reported that a back-up power line between ZNPP and a nearby thermal power station had been deliberately disconnected in order to extinguish a fire, although the line itself was not damaged at the time. ZNPP continued to receive the electricity required for safety from its sole operating reactor (unit 5 – one of six). After the ZNPP’s connection to its last remaining operational 750 kilovolt (kV) line was lost late on 2 September, the 330 kV reserve line had been used to deliver electricity from the ZNPP to the grid. However, on 6 September, further shelling damaged the 330kV back-up line as well as the site’s switchyard. As a result, the head of the pro-Russian civil-military administration (CAA) of the Zaporizhzhia region Yevgeny Balitsky said on 7 September that ZNPP may have to be closed down. “Most likely, we will switch to work from diesel generators. Because the operation of a nuclear power plant in this mode is likely to be impossible,” he told RIA Novosti.

In the IAEA’s detailed 52-page report on nuclear safety, security and safeguards in Ukraine Grossi noted that the ZNPP on several occasions had “lost, fully or partially, the off-site power supply as a result of military activities in the area”. He recommended that the “off-site power supply line redundancy as designed should be re-established and available at any time, and that all military activities that may affect the power supply systems end.”

The report, which looked at all nuclear facilities in Ukraine, not just ZNPP, assessed the situation in terms of the IAEA’s seven indispensable pillars for ensuring nuclear safety and security during an armed conflict – the physical integrity of the facilities; safety and security systems and equipment; the ability of operating staff to fulfil their duties free of undue pressure; a secure off-site power supply; an uninterrupted logistical supply chain; effective on-site and off-site radiation monitoring; and reliable communications with the regulator and others.

It says the ISAMZ, the team “closely witnessed shelling in the vicinity of the ZNPP, in particular on 3 September when the team was instructed to evacuate to the ground level of the Administrative Building”. Moreover, the team observed damage at different locations including damage to the following:

  • One turbine lubrication oil tank; the roofs of various buildings such as the building for the used fuel transporter vehicle; the special building that houses, among other items, fresh nuclear fuel and the solid radioactive waste storage facility; the new training building; the building where the Central Alarm Station of the physical protection system is located; and the container where the radiation monitoring system is located, in the vicinity of the dry used fuel storage facility.

The ISAMZ reported first hand observations of damage to the road surface, walls and windows of various buildings, as well as at the overpass connecting the reactor units at ZNPP and “noted with concern that the shelling could have impacted safety related structures”, and could have caused loss of lives and personnel injuries.

Above: The IAEA team observes the damage caused by shelling on the roof of the special building at the Zaporozhzhia NPP that houses, among other items, the fresh nuclear fuel and solid radioactive waste storage facility (photo courtesy of IAEA)

As a result, the report recommended that shelling on site and in its vicinity should be stopped immediately to maintain the physical integrity to support safe and secure operation. “This requires agreement by all relevant parties to the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the ZNPP.”

The report also noted the presence of Russian military personnel, vehicles and equipment at various places at the ZNPP, including several military trucks on the ground floor of the unit 1 and unit 2 turbine halls. The team also observed the presence of an expert group from Rosenergoatom. “It was explained to the team by the Ukrainian plant staff and managers that the role of this expert group was to provide advice on nuclear safety, security, and operations to the management of the ZNPP.”

The shelling also “increased the anxiety and pressure on the personnel operating the ZNPP,” the report said. In one case, the shift change had to be stopped. “Ukrainian staff operating the plant under Russian military occupation are under constant high stress and pressure, especially with the limited staff available. This is not sustainable and could lead to increased human error with implications for nuclear safety.”

The report concluded that, “through the ISAMZ, the IAEA has established a presence at the ZNPP which will be of paramount importance in helping to stabilise the situation. This should also enable the IAEA to monitor closely the situation at the site, and to receive direct, fast and reliable information.” ISAMZ experts will “carry out detailed and continuous work to assess the physical damage to the plant’s facilities, determine the functionality of the main and back-up safety and security systems, and evaluate the staff’s working conditions, in addition to performing safeguards activities on the site.” However, “the IAEA is still gravely concerned about the situation at the ZNPP….The Seven Pillars have all been compromised at the site.”

IAEA Director General Grossi, addressing the UN Security Council said the report was “the result of “painstaking” efforts to corroborate facts observed over six months. He outlined the findings noting that the physical attacks sustained by the facility — and that he personally assessed — are simply unacceptable. The report thus proposes the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone, limited to the perimeter and the plant itself, he said. After describing the situation in terms of the seven pillars he reiterated that, by agreeing to a special safety and security protection zone, there is an opportunity to prevent certain events from happening. “We are ready to consult quickly with the parties,” he said, adding that the report is considered an interim step until longer-term measures can be put in place.

Un Secretary General Antonio Guterres said any action that might endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the nuclear plant is unacceptable. All efforts to re-establish the plant as purely civilian infrastructure are vital. As a first step, he said Russian and Ukrainian forces must commit not to engage in any military activity towards the plant site or from the plant site, he emphasised. As a second step, an agreement on a demilitarised perimeter should be secured. Specifically, that would include a commitment by Russian forces to withdraw all military personnel and equipment from that perimeter and a commitment by Ukrainian forces not to move into it.

Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia noted that the ISAMZ visit to ZNPP had allowed the IAEA Director General and his team to personally assess the situation. “It is important that you were able to see with your own eyes that, thanks to cooperation between ZNPP staff and the Russian armed forces protecting the station, it is functioning normally and there are no internal threats to its security,” he said. The only threats to the plant are from the shelling and sabotage from the Ukrainian armed forces, he added. 

"We regret that in your report, which appeared just a couple of hours ago, the source of the attacks is not directly indicated," he said. He noted that Moscow " understands the position of the head of the international regulator, but in the current situation it is extremely important to call a spade a spade." Russia will need additional time to study the document, he added.

Addressing the UNSC, the representatives of the USA, UK and France all simply demanded that Russia should immediately withdraw from ZNPP and that a demilitarised zone should be established in the region.

Ukraine’s representative, Sergiy Kyslytsya said the only way to remove the nuclear threat “is the withdrawal of the Russian weaponry and troops and the return of the station to the full legitimate control of Ukraine”. He denied that Ukraine had ever resorted to forceful military actions in relation to the plant. “Only by strengthening sanctions and only by officially recognizing Russia as a terrorist state, at all levels, will the situation be corrected,” he said.  

Above: Operators working in the main control room of unit 5 at the Zaporozhzhia NPP (photo courtesy of IAEA)

Summing up, Grossi said he valued all the delegates’ comments. Nonetheless, the purpose of the Mission was not only to produce reports, but to get things done and improve the situation. In that regard, he said he will soon approach the relevant parties with concrete elements for their consideration to move forward in the next logical step. The first step is the immediate protection to the plant, he noted, adding that he was always at the Council’s disposal and will continue to count on the Secretary-General’s support for Agency personnel. 

Speaking to journalists afterwards, Nebenzia said Russia does not use ZNPP as a military base. "Today, the Russian military is protecting the station, and the military equipment is estimated at a couple of trucks placed there, which were delivered to the Russians protecting the station with small arms. There is no heavy artillery at the station.” He added that Russia is still waiting for specific details on the proposal to create a demilitarised zone around the NPP. "This is not serious,” he said. “If it is demilitarised, the Ukrainian side will immediately occupy (the territory).

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on 7 September that he trusts the IAEA report. "Yes, I certainly trust this report. The IAEA is a responsible international organisation, and its head is a very professional person. They are, of course, under pressure from the countries where they work, including the United States and European countries, and cannot directly say that the attacks are coming from Ukrainian territory. But these are obvious things." He was speaking at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.