Teams of nuclear safety and security experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are being stationed at Ukraine’s NPPs and the Chornobyl site this week. Following his visit to the South Ukraine NPP (SUNPP), IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the Rivne NPP, the Chornobyl site and will go on to the Khmelnitsky NPP.

Grossi has now launched the IAEA Support & Assistance Mission in Rivne (ISAMIR) at a flag-raising ceremony at this plant in western Ukraine, a day after he deployed a similar team, ISAMISU, at the South Ukraine NPP, an eight-hour drive away. At the SUNPP, he also held talks with Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko, the head of Ukraine’s nuclear power company Energoatom, Petro Kotin, and the head the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, Oleh Korikov.

The following day he visited the Chornobyl NPP to establish the Support & Assistance Mission in Chornobyl (ISAMICH), site of the 1986 accident in northern Ukraine. A similar trip is planned to Khmelnitsky NPP in the coming days. The IAEA already has a permanent presence of up to four experts at the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP), which is now under Russian control.

With IAEA teams permanently present at all of Ukraine’s NPPs and the Chornobyl site, the Agency will have around 11-12 staff simultaneously on the ground in the country, which IAEA describes as “an unprecedented undertaking”.

“These new missions – launched at the request of the Government of Ukraine – will make a very real difference through supporting the Ukrainian operators and regulator in fulfilling their national responsibility of ensuring nuclear safety and security during these immensely difficult and challenging times for Ukraine, he said following the ceremony in Rivne. “The experts will monitor key nuclear safety and security systems, provide technical assistance, assess the plants’ needs and report to our headquarters,” he said.

In the latest incident highlighting the persistent nuclear safety and security risks in Ukraine, the South Ukraine, Rivne and Khmelnitsky NPPs reduced their power output as a precautionary measure while the country’s energy infrastructure was under missile attack. The power levels have since been restored, according to information from Ukraine. In another incident, Ukraine reported that missile attacks on Kyiv caused a fire in a warehouse on the site of the Kyiv Research Institute. The site holds a defueled research reactor, the core of which is stored in a used fuel storage facility on the site. No personnel were injured. Radiation monitoring was performed and no changes were measured.

At the ZNPP, the sole 330 kilovolt (kV) back-up line – which has suffered repeated cuts in recent weeks – was disconnected for a few hours to allow for maintenance to be carried out, IAEA said. It is now connected again. The plant – where six reactors are in shutdown – continues to receive off-site power for nuclear safety and security functions from its last remaining operational 750 kV power line. The general nuclear safety and security situation at the plant remains precarious, Grossi said.

During Grossi’s visit to the Chornobyl site, a similar flag-raising ceremony was held. He told reporters; “ We are starting a very comprehensive programme of assistance in the safety and security of this installation.” He stressed the importance of seeing that the Chornobyl site, a year after its occupation by Russian forces, “is back on track”. He added: “The post occupation phase has been successful. Most of the functional activities are restored and are more or less back to normal.” In reply to a question, he said he hoped there would be no further occupation or attack on the facility “and we certainly believe this is not going to be the case”. By having a permanent IAEA presence, “we are taking a very concrete step in that direction…It is a very good way to inform the international community about any developments and to take the actions necessary to prevent that.”

At a subsequent press conference in Kyiv he said the permanent IAEA missions in Ukraine would involve “some of the best internationally renowned experts in safety and security”. The missions would provide advice and technical support to each facility, which, of course, face difference challenges and problems depending on their situation. IAEA will support the supply of necessary equipment and assess the radiological monitoring at each facility. “We will be looking at the situation of the staff, which… are operating under very difficult circumstances including attacks or the threat of attacks. We are going to support them in every possible way.” He said the IAEA presence at Ukraine’s facilities would continue “for as long as the war continues and perhaps after that because the damage to some structures will require co-operation for a lengthy period of time”.

On the subject of establishing a protective zone around ZNPP, he said he was “making progress” and discussions would continue. “There are a number of issues surrounding he possible establishment of the zone – some are nuclear technical issues… and there are other matters related to the area of the zone, the specific extension of the zone.” He concluded: “No-one disagrees that we need to protect the facility to avoid an accident. We need to make sure that, when the war finishes, the plant is intact and ready to operate. At this point it requires protection, and that is what the zone is intended to do.”

Images are screen shots taken from IAEA videos at Chornobyl and in Kyiv (courtesy of IAEA)