International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi arrived in Ukraine on 29 March for talks with senior government officials on the IAEA’s planned delivery of urgent technical assistance to ensure the safety and security of the country’s nuclear facilities and help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment.
The aim of the visit is to initiate prompt safety and security support to Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. It will include sending IAEA experts to prioritised facilities and the shipment of vital safety and security supplies including monitoring and emergency equipment, IAEA said.
“The military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger. We must take urgent action to make sure that they can continue to operate safely and securely and reduce the risk of a nuclear accident that could have a severe health and environmental impact both in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi noted.
The IAEA has drawn up concrete and detailed plans for safety and security assistance to Ukraine’s nuclear sites, which include 15 nuclear power reactors at four plants as well as the Chernobyl site, where radioactive waste management facilities are located following the 1986 accident. The IAEA’s technical assistance will also facilitate conditions for the IAEA to continue carrying out its safeguards activities in Ukraine in line with its non-proliferation mandate, the Agency said.
“Ukraine has requested our assistance for safety and security. We will now start delivering it. Ukraine has one of Europe’s largest nuclear power programmes. The IAEA’s presence, where needed to ensure safety and security, is of paramount importance. We are ready to provide the necessary support now,” Grossi said.
Since the start of the conflict, Grossi had expressed his grave concern about the deteriorating safety and security situation for Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. He has stressed the IAEA’s commitment and readiness to help ensure that the seven indispensable pillars for ensuring safety and security are adhered to. In recent weeks, several of them – including the physical integrity of facilities, the ability of operational staff to work without undue pressure, and the access to off-site power – have been seriously compromised.
“There have already been several close calls. We can’t afford to lose any more time. This conflict is already causing unimaginable human suffering and destruction. The IAEA’s expertise and capabilities are needed to prevent it from also leading to a nuclear accident,” he said.
Continued concerns over staffing at Chernobyl
In an update on the situation on 30 March, IAEA said there had been no change in staffing at the Chernobyl NPP, which has been controlled by Russian forces since 24 February. There has been no staff rotation there since 20-21 March, when technical personnel who had worked at the facility for nearly four weeks were replaced by colleagues from the nearby city of Slavutych.
Ukraine reported no new developments regarding a nuclear research facility in the north-eastern city of Kharkov, a day after it said the facility had suffered additional damage when it came under renewed fire a few days ago. The facility’s nuclear material is subcritical – there can be no nuclear chain reaction – and the radioactive inventory is low.
Out Ukraine’s 15 operational reactors at four sites, the Ukrainian Nuclear Safety Authority (SNRIU) told IAEA eight were continuing to operate, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporozhye, three at Rovno, one at Khmelnitsky, and two at South Ukraine. The other reactors are shut down for regular maintenance, it added.
IAEA delegation visits nuclear sites
SNRIU said on 30 March that members of the IAEA delegation led by Grossi had met with the Minister of Energy of Ukraine, Herman Galushchenko, the head of nuclear utility Energoatom, Petro Kotin, and acting head of the South Ukrainian NPP site Igor Polovych. SNRIU head Oleh Korikov discussed the Agency's support for nuclear and radiation safety, physical protection of nuclear facilities, materials and radioactive waste and other sources of ionising radiation in Ukraine, and return of regulatory control functions to Ukraine, in connection with Russia’s military intervention.
In his speech, Oleg Korikov noted that the current situation in Ukraine is unprecedented, and currently there is no experience in the world of safe operation of nuclear facilities in a large-scale war. He accused Russia of “ignoring internationally recognised principles and requirements of nuclear and radiation safety, in gross violation of its obligations as an IAEA member state”.
"We have to insist again and again on the priority measures of international emergency assistance for the safety of Ukrainian nuclear facilities, namely:
- to create and coordinate the provision of all necessary means of security zones around each NPP of Ukraine, where there should be no military, armaments and military equipment;
- to demand that representatives of Russia's Rosatom and its affiliates, which are currently present at Ukrainian nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities occupied by Russia, immediately leave the relevant sites and transfer operational control over such facilities to Ukraine and the IAEA;
- to assist Ukraine by the IAEA in fulfilling its obligations under the Safeguards Agreement on all nuclear materials at Ukrainian nuclear facilities currently occupied by the Russian military until the cessation of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine;
- to ensure that no citizens of the Russian Federation or the Republic of Belarus, including IAEA staff, participate in decision-making, preparation or conduct of any IAEA missions or other international cooperation activities in Ukraine.”
He added: “The implementation of these measures and further comprehensive cooperation with the IAEA and other international partners on the safety of Ukrainian nuclear facilities is extremely important for Ukraine.”
In a post on Twitter, Grossi thanked workers at South Ukraine NPP "for their endurance and resilience during these extremely difficult times" and said the staff "deserve full respect and admiration for keeping sites running in a safe and secure way amid conflict".
I personally thanked South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant staff for their endurance and resilience during these extremely difficult times. Staff of all #Ukraine nuclear facilities deserve full respect and admiration for keeping sites running in a safe and secure way amid conflict. pic.twitter.com/hOagFfStNv— Rafael MarianoGrossi (@rafaelmgrossi) March 30, 2022
Grossi also said "cutting-edge monitoring and emergency equipment is essential for radiation protection - helping to keep people and the environment safe", posting a picture of some of the equipment already delivered, adding that there would be "much more" to follow "very soon".