12th rotation of IAEA inspectors completed at Zaporizhia

6 October 2023

Ukraine’s Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) is once again using reactor unit 4 to generate steam for various safety functions at the facility after the repair of a water leak detected in mid-August, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in his latest update. After completing the transition of unit 4 to hot from cold shutdown, ZNPP placed reactor unit 6 – which had temporarily been producing such steam during the repair work – in cold shutdown.

As previously reported, Ukraine’s national regulator, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU), has issued regulatory orders to limit the operation of all six units of the ZNPP to a cold shutdown state. In addition, the IAEA has been strongly encouraging the ZNPP to find an alternative source of steam generation to cover the plant’s needs, including for processing liquid radioactive waste, and allow for all the reactors to be maintained in a cold shutdown state.

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.

After it reached cold shutdown, ZNPP began maintenance activities of unit 6, starting with its unit transformer and one of its safety trains in order to clean the heat exchangers. The ZNPP reactors each have three separate and independent redundant systems – known as safety trains – comprising the units’ safety systems, which are normally in stand-by mode ready to activate if needed to maintain safety.

Separately, a new team of IAEA experts has arrived at the ZNPP to replace their colleagues who have been there for the past several weeks. This is the twelfth such mission since Grossi in September last year established the IAEA Support & Assistance Mission to Zaporizhia (ISAMZ) to ensure a permanent Agency presence at the site.

“Once again, our experts have crossed the frontline to help ensure nuclear safety and security at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant which is caught up in the middle of the war. We should all be grateful for their determination to do everything they can to achieve this important task. Their presence is necessary to monitor the situation at the site and to provide impartial and timely information to the international community,” Grossi said.

According to the Russian Defence Ministry, during the rotation of IAEA inspectors, Ukrainian unexploded ordnance was found on the road near the nuclear power plant. “Russian military personnel ensured the safe conduct of the next rotation of observers of the IAEA mission, the Ministry said. It is noted that for this purpose, a ceasefire was declared on the route from the designated place of the observers ' crossing – the destroyed bridge near the village of Kamenskoye – from 6 am to 7 pm, and the Russian military strictly observed it. "During the inspection of the road in the area of the crossing, Russian servicemen recorded unexploded foreign-made ammunition remaining as a result of new systematic attacks conducted by the Ukrainian side in the immediate vicinity of the ZNPP," the Russian military said.

In a significant development for the IAEA’s mission at the site, Grossi said the Agency had taken delivery of armoured vehicles acquired with extra-budgetary support from Japan. In addition, funding from Germany has enabled the IAEA to hire drivers and security personnel for these rotations. “These vehicles and dedicated personnel are essential for ensuring the safety of IAEA staff during rotations to and from the plant. They will also allow us to conduct our missions with full logistical independence,” Director General Grossi said.

The new four-person IAEA team continues to request access to all six turbine halls on the same day, one after the other, to be able to confirm the absence of any materials and equipment that may contravene the five concrete principles for the protection of the ZNPP. This request has not yet been approved and the team can only confirm the status of one turbine hall at a time, IAEA noted.

At the UN Security Council on 30 May Grossi elaborated five basic IAEA principles for the protection of the plant at a time of heightened military risks, These included that there must be no attacks at or from the site, that it must not be used as a store for heavy weapons and that external power sources should be maintained. “From now on, we will be monitoring compliance with these principles, which are designed to prevent a nuclear accident during the armed conflict,” he said.

The IAEA experts are also continuing to request access to the rooftops of reactor buildings 1, 2, 5 and 6, which they had expected to be granted. “We will insist until we get the access we need in order to monitor compliance with the five concrete principles for the protection of the ZNPP,” Grossi said.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Kyiv does not stop trying to destabilise the situation in the area of the ZNPP and its satellite city Energodar, “so Moscow calls on the IAEA to record cases of Ukrainian attacks on the station,” he said.

"We call on the agency not just to record the facts of attacks on the Energodar station and satellite city using drones and other means, but to record who is responsible for this," he said on the sidelines of the forum "Russia & Iberoamerica in a Turbulent World: History & Modernity." However, Moscow has not yet managed to get the necessary actions from the IAEA on this issue, he added, noting that this “essentially negates the principles and theses that Director General Grossi has developed and promoted in recent months at relevant sites, including at the UN Security Council”.

Image courtesy of IAEA

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