International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General, Rafael Mariano Grossi noted that a year has passed since he first visited Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) and established the IAEA Support & Assistance Mission to Zaporizhia (ISAMZ). He said the permanent presence of IAEA experts at ZNPP has been essential in reducing the likelihood of a nuclear accident. The IAEA has also provided ongoing assistance and monitoring in Ukraine since the start of the special military operation, including missions, experts at all Ukraine’s NPPs, facilitating international financial support, and information sharing.

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 which 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.

“As I said one year ago, having the IAEA permanently present at the ZNPP is of great value. There is no doubt that this presence was a game changer,” Grossi said. The presence of the ISAMZ team “was essential in helping to stabilise the situation and keeping the world informed”. The anniversary comes just one day after a successful tenth ISAMZ rotation, with IAEA experts once again crossing the front line as the teams departed and arrived at the plant.

During the previous rotation, IAEA experts had been granted access to the reactor rooftops of units 3 & 4, which allowed them to verify that no mines or explosives were placed there or on the rooftops of the turbine halls. The ISAMZ team, therefore, expected similar access to the rooftops of the remaining four units during the current rotation. However, no such access was granted this time. Grossi reiterated the importance of IAEA experts being granted timely access to all areas of the ZNPP to monitor full compliance with the five basic principles.

The IAEA experts continue to hear explosions and the sounds of military activity taking place some distance away from the ZNPP. The ISAMZ team was informed by ZNPP that a drone had hit a residential building in Enerhodar on 23 August and that no casualties were reported. The IAEA experts confirmed that these events had no impact on the site. Director General Grossi said that these are yet another reminder of potential nuclear safety and security risks facing the facility during the military conflict in the country.

Unit 4 at the ZNPP has been in cold shutdown since 12 August after a water leak was identified in one of the four steam generators. The cause of the water leak has been repaired, initial tests were successfully performed, and further testing is ongoing. Unit 6 remains in hot shutdown for steam production on site. Units 1-5 remain in cold shutdown. IAEA noted that Ukrainian nuclear regulator – SNRIU – had issued regulatory orders to place all six units in cold shutdown.

In addition to the maintenance work that was performed on the steam generator, the site is performing other maintenance activities on the safety and electrical systems of the reactor units.

The team was informed, however, that there has been a considerable reduction in maintenance staff – currently at about one-third in comparison to before the armed conflict in Ukraine began – raising further concerns about the ability of the site to properly maintain the systems, structures and components important for nuclear safety and security at the plant.

ZNPP said that new staff had been recruited, but it would take time for them to complete training and gain the necessary experience to work on the site. However, they added that maintenance contractors from Rosenergoatom can attend at short notice to assist in the performance of maintenance tasks.

ZNPP’s large cooling pond and its other main supply of water – the discharge channel of the nearby Zaporizhia Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP) – remain intact, the IAEA experts said. The height of the ZNPP cooling pond continues to drop by about one centimetre a day while water from the ZTPP inlet channel is regularly pumped into its discharge channel to compensate for water used for cooling or lost through natural evaporation. The site continues to have sufficient cooling water available for many months.

The team continues to monitor the construction of wells close to the plant’s sprinkler ponds. There are now four wells in operation after the fourth well was recently drilled. ZNPP has informed ISAMZ that it intends to build a total of 10-12 wells around the sprinkler ponds in the coming weeks, which will then become the main source of cooling water for the six shutdown reactor units and used fuel pools.

The IAEA team also continues to conduct regular walkdowns across the site. Over the past ten days, the experts have visited: the main control room, emergency control room and other safety-related rooms of unit 1, as well as the unit’s reactor hall, main pumps, steam generators, and safety system rooms; the main control room, emergency control room and other safety-related rooms of unit 4; the plant perimeter and two of the on-site radiation monitoring stations. During these walkdowns, the team observed the presence of military trucks in the turbine hall of unit 1, but they did not observe any mines or explosives other than those previously reported.

In addition, the team visited the ZNPP 750 kilovolt (kV) open switchyard on 25 August and observed that all possible repairs had been completed and the yard was preparing for winter. Only one of the four 750kV off-site power lines remains connected, however, most recently on 10 August this power line was disconnected twice during the day, leaving the site to rely on off-site power from the backup 330kV line.

Meanwhile, work is continuing to integrate ZNPP into Russia’s energy system. ZNPP noted that the operator town of Energodar, had become the 28th member of the organisation of Russian nuclear cities (territories where NPPs and Rosatom nuclear enterprises are located). The military-civil administration of Energodar, together with the Rosenergoatom concern, has also carried out repairs in schools in preparation for the start of the new school year.

At the beginning of 2023, Rosenergoatom audited the condition of Energodar’s social infrastructure facilities (schools, kindergartens, other facilities). While the facilities were found to be useable, repairs and upgrading were required everywhere. Almost all schools and kindergartens required repairs to catering units and replacement of food equipment. Repair work is the responsibility of Sergey Kirienko, First Deputy of the Russian Presidential Administration and Chairman of Rosatom’s Supervisory Board, who regularly visits the city and monitors the progress of work.

To date repair work has been completed at:

  • Kindergarten No 3 – replacement of catering and laundry equipment;
  • School No 5 – repair of the facade and entrance, partial replacement of windows, repair of the catering unit with installation of equipment;
  • School No 2 – repair of the catering unit, sports hall and locker rooms, repair of the roof over the sports and assembly hall, replacement of the heating system;
  • School No 4 – repair of the catering unit, gym, partial repair of the roof;

Social facilities where repair work is still underway include:

  • Central Library, completion date 10.31.2023 – replacement of utility networks, roof repair, renovation of second floor premises;
  • Kindergarten No 10, completion date 03/31/2024 – major renovation of the building, roof repair, replacement of internal utility networks, finishing work;
  • Cultural and business centre, completion date 12/31/2023 – major renovation of the assembly hall for 250 seats;
  • Music school, completion date 03/31/2024 – major renovation of a two-story detached building;
  • Boxing school, completion date 09/30/2023 – major renovation of the building, insulation and facade repair.

ZNPP said that in the renovated Energodar schools, modern teaching methods have been introduced including digital technology, natural science, technical and humanitarian programmes. In addition to repair work, the schools have also been supplied with new equipment.

During the summer a Preparatory School was organised for graduates of schools in Energodar and nearby villages seeking to enter specialised universities – Sevastopol State University (SevGU) and the Moscow Engineering & Physics Institute (MEPhi). The Summer School was completely free to participants, including accommodation, meals, leisure and transfers, all financed by Rosenergoatom. The cost of the event was about RUB 9m ($93,000). Of the 51 graduates who attended, 45 chose SevGU and six chose MEPhI. They all received ongoing support for their studies from ZNPP and Regenerator, including scholarships and grants to cover housing.

Image courtesy of Rosatom