IAEA assesses military threats to NPPs in Ukraine and Russia

3 November 2023

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts have assessed the damage caused recent powerful explosions near Ukraine’s Khmelnitsky NPP (KhNPP), observing 26 broken windows but reporting no impact on nuclear safety and security at the site, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said. The IAEA team present at the KhNPP has conducted a thorough walkdown at the site after blast waves shattered windows in several of its buildings and briefly cut external power to two off-site radiation monitoring stations. Ukraine said it had shot down two drones five and 20 kilometres from the plant, respectively. The KhNPP is now installing thin metal sheets to replace the damaged windows until permanent replacements can be procured. One reactor is continuing to operate, while the second unit remains in planned outage since early August.

Separately, the IAEA is aware of Russian reports of three drones identified in an area near the Kursk NPP (KuNPP) in the south of the Russian Federation, one of which exploded causing minor damage to the façade of the building where used nuclear fuel is stored. It is reported there were no casualties and the radiation levels at the site of the KuNPP do not exceed the established norms.

“This week’s events show that nuclear safety and security remains potentially precarious, not only at the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP),” Grossi said. “The IAEA will remain present at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities to monitor and inform the world about developments. We will continue to do everything in our power to help prevent a nuclear accident during the military conflict,” Director General Grossi said.

At ZNPP, the IAEA team on site continued to conduct walkdowns across the site, visiting its cooling pond, isolation gates, cooling towers, its outlet channel, as well as the outlet channel of the nearby Zaporizhia Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP). No mines or explosives were observed. The team has continued to request access to the rooftops of reactor units 1, 5 and 6, after in recent months being able to go to those areas of the ZNPP’s three other units. The IAEA experts also need access to all six turbine halls together. However, they were only granted partial access to the turbine hall of reactor unit 1, five days after they received similarly restrictive access to the turbine hall of unit 4.

Maintenance activities are continuing to be performed on the safety systems of unit 6 after it was moved to cold shutdown in October. Of the other reactors, units 4 and 5 are in hot shutdown to generate steam for nuclear safety related functions and heating for the nearby town of Enerhodar, while the remaining three continue to be in cold shutdown.

According to the ZNPP website, unit 1 is under average repair, and the reactor plant is in cold shutdown; unit 2 is in reserve and the reactor is in cold shutdown; unit 3 is under average repair and in the "shutdown for repair" state; unit 4 is in reserve and the reactor unit is in hot shutdown; and units 5&6 are also in reserve and in hot shutdown.

The IAEA team this week also visited the mobile diesel boilers that the plant has started operating as part of additional efforts to generate more heating during the winter, their usage depending on the requirements for steam at the plant and for heating in Enerhodar, where most staff live. Currently, four of the nine installed boilers are in operation. The experts observed that the boilers were in good condition, with fire safety labels on all of them. The team was also informed that a fire alarm system had been installed. The IAEA was also informed of 57 such boilers installed in the operators’ town of Energodar, as well as two larger boilers at the ZTPP and one in its industrial area.

Regarding the supply chain and delivery of spare parts for the ZNPP – one of seven indispensable pillars for nuclear safety and security during the conflict – the IAEA experts were recently informed that the plant has adapted its procurement process to align it with that of the Russian Federation. In addition, they were told that supplies of consumables and spare parts are now delivered from the Russian Federation, covering about 90% of needs. However, the IAEA assesses that the supply chain logistics remain challenging.

During the past week, the ZNPP has been finalising the closure of unit 3 reactor vessel, with the ongoing sealing of the reactor head, the IAEA experts said.

The IAEA teams at Ukraine’s two other NPPs – the Rivne and South Ukraine NPPs – and the Chornobyl site report safe and secure operations of these nuclear facilities despite the continuation of the conflict.

This week, the IAEA carried out its 30th delivery of equipment to Ukraine to support nuclear safety and security in the country. The state regulatory body, SNRIU, received survey meters with a neutron detection capacity and the SUNPP received portable dissolved hydrogen analysers, vibro-analysers, and related accessories. The equipment was procured using extrabudgetary contributions from Canada, the European Union, and the UK. With this delivery, the IAEA has supported Ukraine with nuclear safety and security equipment worth more than €7m ($7.4m) since the start of the armed conflict.

Image: Zaporizhia nuclear power plant

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