IAEA experts reach Zaporizhia NPP at fourth attempt

3 March 2023

A long-delayed rotation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) has finally taken place on the fourth attempt. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said the delay had complicated efforts to support nuclear safety and security during the military conflict in Ukraine.

The new team of IAEA staff arrived at ZNPP after crossing the frontline, allowing the three experts who had been at the site in southern Ukraine since early January to finally begin their journey back to IAEA headquarters, a month later than initially planned.

Grossi said the rotation was of major importance for the future of the IAEA Support & Assistance Mission to Zaporizhia (ISAMZ), which has been conducting vital nuclear safety and security activities since it was established on 1 September. The new team is the sixth since to be stationed at the plant. Grossi thanked all parties involved for their constructive efforts “to end the rotation deadlock at the ZNPP, which followed an increase in military activity in the region”.

The deadlock had resulted in intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy and had drawn angry statements from Russian officials. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova had expressed deep concern about the delayed rotation. It was originally expected to take place on 7 February. She said the Russian Defence Ministry had provided all necessary security guarantees for the movement of Agency experts and accompanying persons from among the UN Secretariat staff. However, representatives of the UN Department of Safety & Security postponed the rotation to 10 February and then to 18 February and had imposed additional requirements including the need to change the route.

Zakharova said no information was provided on the reasons for changing the mission's route and that the alternative route proposed by the UN was unsafe. Russia’s Defence Ministry, in a note to the UN Department of Safety & Security expressed its lack of understanding and extreme concern at the position taken by the Department, “which prevents the IAEA specialists from reaching the station”.

Another date was set for “within two to three days” after 25 February, with Russia again offering all possible guarantees. Zakharova said if there was a further postponement “we will consider the actions of the UN Department of Safety & Security to be deliberately aimed at obstructing the work of the Agency's mission”…. She stressed that continuation of the IAEA monitoring mission “fully meets the interests of Russia, the Agency and the entire international community”.

In a similar vein, Renat Karchaa, adviser to the general director of Rosenergoatom, said the failure to rotate the inspectors was “a provocation, the purpose of which is to set Russia and this international organisation against each other”. Vladimir Rogov, a member of the main Council of the Zaporozhye region administration stressed that the region “is open for the visit of the IAEA teams, and there are no obstacles to this”.

Following the rotation, Kaarcha told TASS a total of seven people had arrived at the station – three IAEA specialists and four employees of the UN Security Department - and that the rotation was carried out using the normal route. He said the reasons given for postponing the rotation were “delusional”.

Image: Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (courtesy of RIA Novosti)

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