Concern continues for Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

11 August 2022

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said on 10 August that Ukraine had informed the Agency that a shelling incident on 6 August near the dry used fuel storage facility at the Zaporizhzhia NPP (ZNPP) had caused some damage, but that available radiation measurements continued to show normal levels at the site.

According to Ukraine, the event occurred a day after previous shelling. The incident had damaged the plant’s external power supply system injuring a Ukrainian security guard. It also damaged walls, a roof and windows in the area of the used fuel storage facility, as well as communication cables that are part of its radiation control system, with a possible impact on the functioning of three radiation detection sensors, Ukraine told IAEA. But there was no visible damage to the containers with used nuclear fuel or to the protective perimeter of the facility.

Based on the information provided, IAEA experts assessed that there was no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of the incident, Grossi said. However, the shelling on 5&6 at the ZNPP breached virtually all the seven indispensable nuclear safety and security pillars that the Director General outlined at the beginning of the conflict, including those related to NPP physical integrity, functioning safety and security systems, staff and external power supplies.

The 6 August incident showed how the conflict had also compromised nuclear safety and security pillars related to Emergency Preparedness and Response arrangements as well as communications, Grossi noted. Ukraine informed the IAEA after the incident that plant staff had restricted access to the ZNPP’s on-site crisis centre, potentially impacting response activities in case of an emergency even if access to an off-site centre remained possible. In addition, the Ukrainian regulator said its communications with ZNPP were “very limited and fragmentary”. The regulator also said the plant continued to have limited availability of off-site power.

Grossi reiterated his grave concern about the situation at the ZNPP and that any military action jeopardising nuclear safety and security must stop. He again stressed the need for an IAEA expert mission to go to the plant as soon as possible to help stabilise the nuclear safety and security situation. The IAEA has not been able to visit the Russian-occupied facility in Ukraine's south since before the conflict began more than five months ago. Russia has offered to facilitate a visit but the Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly refused. Grossi said IAEA is in close contact with the Ukrainian authorities and continues to monitor the nuclear safety and security situation.

Russia told diplomats it was ready to welcome international monitors to the plant, which has been under Russian control since 4 March. Russia’s envoy to the IAEA has invited an international mission to Zaporizhzhia to conduct “activities within the framework of the implementation of safeguards, as well as monitoring the state of nuclear safety and security,” Bloomberg reported, citing a note circulated among diplomats in Vienna.

However, speaking at the United Nations last week, Grossi said he needs permission from Ukraine’s government, as well as security guarantees and a safe passage through the war zone. “Going there is a very complex thing because it requires the cooperation and understanding of a number of actors,” Grossi said. “It’s a Ukrainian facility, so it requires Ukraine to agree. At the same time, the plant is occupied by Russia and I have to talk to everybody.”

IAEA and the UN have both been very careful not to identify which side is responsible for the shelling. However, on 9 August, Russia summoned an emergency session of the UN Security Council, accusing Ukraine of striking the NPP. Moscow wants the IAEA, to brief the council on the situation. The move was confirmed by the deputy head of Russia’s mission to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, who said the public needed to learn about “Ukrainian provocations”. Russia said Ukraine has been responsible for a series of drone attacks and artillery strikes at the nuclear site. Ukraine denied the allegations claiming that Russia shelled the facility to discredit Ukraine and also alleged that Moscow was using the plant as a military base, keeping heavy weapons and personnel there.

Moscow called on UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to leverage his authority to speed up an IAEA visit. The UN Department of Safety and Security is acting irresponsibly by stalling the visit, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova alleged in an interview on 10 August.

The same day, the G7 foreign ministers issued a statement in support of the IAEA's efforts to promote nuclear safety and security at ZNPP. A statement by the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA, and the High Representative of the European Union demanded that Russia should withdraw its troops from within Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders and respect Ukraine’s territory and sovereignty. They also demanded that Russia “immediately hand back full control to its rightful sovereign owner, Ukraine, of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as well as of all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders to ensure their safe and secure operations”.

On 9 August, the Acting Chairman of Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, Oleh Korikov meeting with the Deputy Head of the Mission at the US Embassy in Ukraine, Christopher V Smith, stressed the need to return ZNPP to the control of Ukraine. He said a transitional solution could be to take ZNPP under the control of an international mission (with the participation of the UN, IAEA, other international organisations), which could return the plant to a safe mode of operation, and later return it to the control of Ukraine.

Image: Three of the six units at the Zaporizhzhia NPP in Ukraine (photo courtesy of Energoatom)

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