IAEA loses safeguards connections with Zaporizhzhia NPP and Chernobyl

1 July 2022

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has once again lost the remote connection to its safeguards surveillance systems installed at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP), further underlining the need for the IAEA to go there very soon, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said on 29 June.

The IAEA has not been able to visit ZNPP since before the current military conflict in Ukraine. Russian forces took control of the plant nearly four months ago, but Ukrainian staff are continuing to operate it.

Grossi has repeatedly stressed his determination to agree, organise and head an IAEA-led international mission to conduct essential nuclear safety, security and safeguards activities at ZNPP, Ukraine’s largest NPP with six reactors. He also recently expressed increasing concern about the difficult conditions facing staff at the ZNPP and the impact of such conditions on the safety and security of the plant

“The fact that our remote safeguards data transmission is down again – for the second time in the past month – only adds to the urgency to dispatch this mission,” he said. Earlier this month, the IAEA and the Ukrainian operator of the plant worked together to restore the remote transmission of safeguards data from the ZNPP to IAEA headquarters after a technical interruption of almost two weeks. The data from this time period was also recovered.

However, the connection was lost again on 25 June, due to a disruption of the facility’s communication systems, Grossi said, citing the assessment of IAEA technicians at its headquarters.

In addition, inspectors can only carry out essential nuclear material verification work when they are at the site. The interval of physical inventory verifications at NPPs cannot exceed a specified duration. This is particularly important at two of the units at ZNPP. These units have also been refuelled in recent months and a physical verification of the nuclear material therein is a safeguards pre-requisite before re-starting them.

The IAEA is also facing a partial loss of remote safeguards data transmission from the Chornobyl NPP, the Grossi added. Safeguards data from IAEA systems installed at two of the NPP’s facilities are no longer being transmitted. The problem seems linked to safeguards equipment at the site, in which case IAEA technicians need to go there to restore communication, he said. The IAEA sent a mission to Chornobyl in late April and a second mission about four weeks ago, to conduct safety, security and safeguards work.

With the exception of the ZNPP, the IAEA continues to receive remote safeguards data from Ukraine’s three other operational NPPs.

Ukraine separately informed the IAEA today that eight of the country’s 15 nuclear energy reactors are currently connected to the grid, including two at the ZNPP, three at the Rivne NPP, two at the South Ukraine NPP, and one at the Khmelnytskyy NPP. The seven other reactors are shut down for regular maintenance or held in reserve. Safety systems remain operational at the four NPPs, and they also continue to have off-site power available, Ukraine said.

The ultimate fate of ZNPP remains unclear. Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom said on 16 June that the previous day a representatives of Russian “occupiers”, named Alexander Genadyevich, who had arrived from the Russian administration, called together the heads of the ZNPP structural units and informed them that from 1 September ZNPP would be completely come under the control of Russia and Rosatom. He told them to prepared to meet new management and work by new rules. Energoatom insisted, however, that ZNPP would remain within the Ukrainian energy system and work accordance with Ukrainian legislation.  

Meanwhile, the State Nuclear Inspectorate for Regulation of Ukraine (SNRIU) said on 27 June it had terminated a number of agreements with the Russian Federation relating to co-operation in nuclear safety. “The relevant order was signed on 24 Juneby the Acting Chairman - Chief State Inspector for Nuclear and Radiation Safety of Ukraine Oleh Korikov.” The following international agreements were terminated:

  • Agreements on cooperation between the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety of Ukraine and the Federal Supervision of Nuclear and Radiation Safety of Russia (signed in Vienna on September 19, 1996);
  • Agreement between the State Nuclear Regulatory Committee of Ukraine and the Federal Nuclear and Radiation Safety Supervision of Russia on the exchange of information and cooperation in the field of safety regulation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy (signed in Moscow on August 14, 2002).

The order was agreed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine, the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine - the Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine.

Image: Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (photo courtesy of Energoatom)

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