IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has held a series of talks in the southern Russian city of Sochi with President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials including Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev. This Grossi’s second meeting with Putin Russia took control of ZNPP in March 2022 as part of its special military operation in Ukraine. In October 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree formally transferring ZNPP to Russian jurisdiction under nuclear utility Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom) – a few days before Grossi’s first meeting with Putin in St Petersburg. A Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise, Zaporizhia NPP, has since been established by nuclear utility Rosenergoatom to operate the plant, which is now being transferred to Russian operating and safety standards.

Welcoming Grossi, Vladimir Putin said: “I am very glad to see you again in Russia,” according to the Kremlin website transcript. He added: “We continue to cooperate very actively with the IAEA, Russia continues to cooperate in many areas, and we remain one of the undisputed leaders in this area in the world.” He continued: We not only operate and actively develop nuclear energy and consider it an environmentally friendly type of energy, we do everything to improve the safety of nuclear facilities. We are building new power plants based on modern principles: Kursk Nuclear Power Plant-2 with fast neutrons. We are making small stations and developing the nuclear fleet. A small floating nuclear power plant was installed in the north. All this is very much in demand not only in our country, but also in demand by the economy and energy sector of the whole world. And we are ready to share our best practices with all our interested partners.”

Putin emphasised his appreciation of the IAEA’s work. “As you know, we are doing quite a lot of work in this regard in the international arena, and with your help and support, we are implementing numerous projects in many countries of the world. Why did I mention your help and support again, because it is very important, absolutely without any exaggeration, on a planetary scale, I mean ensuring the safety and compliance with the safety standards of nuclear power throughout the world.”

He said: “We are also ready for further work in all these areas, we are grateful for your reciprocal steps to strengthen our joint work and, of course, we are ready to discuss any issues that you consider relevant. I know that you have some particularly sensitive and important issues on the agenda of our meeting today, and we are certainly ready to discuss them and do everything possible to ensure security in any place where we are somehow related to nuclear energy.”

Grossi replied, according to the Kremlin report: “It's very important for me to be here. We first talked in St Petersburg a year and a half ago. It was an important meeting at that time. It seems to me that everything that has happened since then further demonstrates the timeliness of this conversation. I agree, the times are very important, there are challenges, and we will discuss these challenges.”

He added: “There are also sensitive issues in terms of changes in the global energy sector. Here, together with Mr Likhachev, we held a long morning session with our specialists, discussing various topics. In my opinion, this conversation is extremely important. And I appreciate the opportunity and am ready to discuss all these topics with you. It's a pleasure to be in Russia. Thank you again.”

A Kremlin statement confirmed the constructive nature of Russia's relations with the IAEA. "The very fact that Likhachev and Grossi will attend a reception with the head of state following the talks shows that our relations with the IAEA continue to be very constructive," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. He noted that Russia is a major nuclear power, which is very responsible for its status. "And this responsible behaviour of Russia has always been highly appreciated by the IAEA," he said.

In a posting on the social media platform X, Grossi noted: "important exchange with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in Sochi, on the nuclear safety and security of #ZNPP and other non-proliferation global challenges".

Grossi had arrived at the Bocharov Ruchey residence for the meeting with Putin in the same car as Likhachev. Earlier in the day, they held a meeting to discuss the situation at ZNPP. Likhachev headed a Russian delegation that also included: the head of Russian nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor, Alexander Trembitsky; the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the International Organisations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov; and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Armed Forces (Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Protection Forces) and the National Guard Troops Federal Service of the Russian Federation (Rosgvardiya).

According to Rosatom, the consultations covered a wide range of issues including the possibilities for nuclear energy development in Russia and worldwide. The main emphasis of the talks related to ensuring the nuclear safety and security of ZNPP. Likhachev outlined measures being taken to ensure safe operation of the plant and discussed “certain aspects of interaction with the IAEA experts at the plant”. Grossi, in turn, reported on the results of his trip to ZNPP in February, where he visited the turbine hall and the main control room of unit 4, as well as power and water supply facilities. The two sides confirmed their agreement to continue contacts.

According to Likhachev, Rosatom and the IAEA agree on the future safe launch of ZNPP, which currently has five units in cold shutdown and one in hot shutdown. He stressed that, to ensure safety not only in shutdown mode but also in operation, there was “a long way to go, including ending the threat of a physical attack or seizure of the plant”.

In an interview with RT, Grossi said that, in the situation around the ZNPP, the IAEA had faced bureaucratic and political problems, but that the situation had "evolved”. He added that when the first IAEA delegation visited the plant in September 2022, there were direct attacks on the station itself, on the enterprise, “so the situation was serious” as the consequences of such strikes could be "unthinkable”. The changes that have taken place since then are also of a technical nature: the operation of plant has been suspended and Russia has established a new structure to manage the plant, he noted.

Grossi acknowledged that while armed conflict continues, he cannot say that "everything is fine", but there are positive aspects. For example, the IAEA has a stable presence at the plant and can work with plant employees as well as directly with the Russian leadership and representatives of Rosatom.

Image (top right): Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi (R) and Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev (courtesy of Kremlin.ru)

Image (bottom left): Grossi, second left, holds talks with Likhachev (third right) and other Russian officials (courtesy of Rosatom)