International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said yesterday, 23 March, that the IAEA stands ready to send experts and equipment to Ukraine to help ensure the safety and security of its nuclear facilities and prevent the risk of a severe accident that could threaten both people and the environment.

In a video statement, the Director General said he remained "gravely concerned" about the situation and he again stressed the urgent need to conclude an agreed framework that would enable the IAEA to provide technical assistance for the safe and secure operation of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, which include 15 reactors a well as the Chernobyl site.

“I have personally expressed my readiness to immediately come to Ukraine to conclude such an agreement, which would include substantial assistance and support measures, including on-site presence of IAEA experts at different facilities in Ukraine, as well as the delivery of vital safety equipment,” Grossi said.

However, he said “a positive outcome still eludes us” after intensive consultations for many days now, adding that “the need to prevent a nuclear accident becomes more pressing with each day that passes”.

He added: “I hope to be able to conclude this agreed framework without further delay. We cannot afford to lose any more time. We need to act now.”

Wildfires reported in Chernobyl exclusion zone

Ukraine’s regulatory authority the same day informed the IAEA that firefighters were trying to extinguish wildfires near the Chernobyl NPP, an area which has seen such outbreaks also in previous years.

The fire brigade from the town of Chernobyl has extinguished four fires, but there are still ongoing fires. The local fire station does not currently have access to the electricity grid, the regulator said. In the meantime, the station is relying on diesel generators for power, for which fuel is required. The nuclear power plant site, where radioactive waste management facilities are located, continues to have off-site power available.

In the Exclusion Zone, the regulator said radiation measurements are not currently being performed. It said slight increases in caesium air concentrations had been detected in Kyiv and at two NPP sites west of Chornobyl, but the regulator told the IAEA that they did not pose significant radiological concerns. The IAEA is continuing to engage with the regulator to obtain further information about the fire situation.

Eight reactors remain in operation

Of Ukraine’s 15 reactors, located at four sites, the regulator said eight were continuing to operate, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporozhye NPP, three at Rovno, one at Khmelnitsky, and two at South Ukraine. Personnel at the four operating plants were rotating in eight-hour shifts, also at the Zaporozhye. A research reactor in the capital Kyiv was in a safe shutdown state, the regulator said on 20 March.

The previous day, IAEA reported that a new shift of technical personnel was in place at the Chernobyl NPP after a long-delayed staff rotation was completed on 21 March, the regulator said. It was the first change of Ukrainian personnel there since Russian forces took control of the area on 24 February. 

Damaged roads and bridges had complicated the transportation of staff to the nearby city of Slavutych, the regulator said. The new work shift also comes from Slavutych and includes two supervisors instead of the usual one to ensure that there is back-up available on the site, the regulator said. An agreement had been reached on how to organise future staff rotations at the nuclear power plant. 

Ukraine’s State Agency for Exclusion Zone Management on 22 March accused the Russian military of destroying a laboratory worth €6 million at the Chernobyl NPP which had been in operation since 2015. It said the Central Analytical Laboratory in Chernobyl, which is a unique complex with powerful analytical capabilities, can provide services at any stage of radwaste management, from air conditioning to disposal, as well as research and technology development.

“Thanks to the EU Instrument for Nuclear Security Cooperation (ISRP), a project aimed at improving the radioactive waste management infrastructure was successfully implemented in 2015 together with the Ukrainian partner of the SACP. Almost 100 units of state-of-the-art costly analytical equipment, which has no analogues in Europe,” the Ukrainian agency said. However, the IAEA made no mention of this incident in its subsequent reports.