IAEA monitoring mission blocked from Zaporizhia NPP

23 February 2023

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has appealed for constructive efforts by all involved parties to facilitate this month’s already delayed rotation of experts to and from Ukraine’s Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP). Grossi stressed the vital importance of the continued presence of the IAEA Support & Assistance Mission to Zaporizhia (ISAMZ) at Europe’s largest NPP.

Russian troops took control of the NPP in March 2022. After the Zaporozhye region was annexed by Russia in October, following a referendum, never recognised by the US or Europe, the plant's facilities were transferred to Russian ownership. The new operator, JSC Operating Organisation of ZNPP, was set up by Russian nuclear utility Rosenergoatom. However, Ukraine’s Energoatom continues to claim ownership of the plant, which has come under repeated shelling and drone attacks.

Grossi established ISAMZ on 1 September 2022, and the current Agency team at the plant is the fifth so far. IAEA still formally recognises ZNPP as Ukrainian. This means that, during rotation, the IAEA teams have to reach the plant from Ukraine, which entails crossing the frontline between Ukrainian- and Russian-controlled territory. Currently, a planned rotation of the three ISAMZ experts present at the ZNPP since early January has been delayed for several weeks, with the replacement team already in Ukraine, Grossi noted.

The nuclear safety and security situation in Ukraine – especially at ZNPP – continues to be dangerous and unpredictable, Grossi said. “ISAMZ has been playing a key role in helping to protect this major nuclear facility – with its six reactors – during the war. Their presence is contributing to the maintenance of nuclear safety and security, which is in everybody’s interest. The Agency is doing everything it can to conduct the safe rotation of our staff there as soon as possible. Their safety and security are my top priority,” he added.

The Director General said he was aware of recent statements and positions by both sides. “While these reflect their opposing views about the situation, it is important to approach this in a practical spirit bearing in mind the importance of the mission, for people in Ukraine and beyond,” he said. “Our staff at the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant, alongside those of the ZNPP, have won the respect and admiration of the wider international community. We can all be very grateful for the work they are doing in extremely difficult and challenging circumstances. We must all help ensure that they can continue to implement this crucial nuclear safety and security mission,” he noted.

In view of persistent nuclear safety and security risks, Grossi said he remains determined to agree and implement a nuclear safety and security protection zone around ZNPP as soon as possible, even though the negotiations with Ukraine and the Russian Federation have made slower progress than he had hoped. “I will continue my diplomatic efforts until the zone is established. Virtually every day, we are reminded of the necessity of more protective measures for the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant,” he emphasised.

In a strong statement on the situation at ZNPP, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, expressed deep concern about the rotation of the IAEA monitoring mission. She said: “The mission is a significant factor in stabilising the situation around the plant and an important source of independent information about what is happening at Europe's largest nuclear facility. For a long time now, we have been working closely and smoothly with the IAEA Secretariat to implement this task.”

The planned replacement of the IAEA specialists stationed at the NPP was to take place on 7 February. “In this regard, the Russian Defence Ministry provided the necessary security guarantees for the movement of Agency experts and accompanying persons from among the UN Secretariat staff from and to the facility across the contact line from the Ukrainian side, and measures were taken to ensure the crossing of the line contact points,” Zakharova said.

Representatives of the UN Department of Safety & Security proposed postponing the rotation to 10 February and Russia “again confirmed in a note its readiness to implement the full range of measures to ensure security and accompany the arrival of the international mission within the specified time frame”, she noted. However, the UN Department once more postponed the deadline and “put forward additional requirements for the need to clear the territories in the area of the contact line and change the route”.

According to Zakharova, the Defence Ministry again “guaranteed in writing the safe arrival of the mission along the already tested and repeatedly used route”, but on the planned date (18 February) the rotation did not take place. It “was postponed by the UN forces for an indefinite time, which the Russian side was notified of, and again without explanation”. She added that no further information was provided on the reasons for changing the mission's route.

“The alternative route proposed by the UN is unsafe, and the movement along it was associated with serious risks to the life and health of employees of the international organisation,” Zakharova said. “The Russian Defence Ministry, in its note to the UN Department of Safety & Security dated 18 February, expressed its lack of understanding and extreme concern at the position taken by this Department, which prevents the IAEA specialists from staying at the station.”

She continued: “It was stressed that the Russian side is monitoring the situation and believes that the UN Department of Safety & Security does not have reliable information about the real state of affairs in the area of the contact line and along the route of movement of the convoy.” Russia has once again indicated its readiness to provide all possible guarantees, including additional medical support measures, when performing a rotation within two to three days after 25 February during the passage of the convoy through the checkpoint "Vasilyevka", which is the safest route and continues to function normally. “It was also stressed that the best security conditions for entering the NPP would be provided when travelling to this facility from Russian territory without crossing the contact line.”

Zakharova concluded: “If the replacement of the IAEA specialists is not carried out this time, 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…. In the current circumstances, it is necessary that the UN Department of Safety & Security does not block, but rather promotes the rotation of IAEA experts to ZNPP and the normal exercise of their powers. There were and cannot be any obstacles to this from the Russian side. The continuation of the IAEA monitoring mission fully meets the interests of Russia, the Agency and the entire international community.”

An angry statement also came from Renat Karchaa, adviser to the general director of Rosenergoatom. He told Rossiya-24 TV that the failure to rotate the inspectors was “a provocation, the purpose of which is to set Russia and this international organisation against each other”. He did not specify who he believed was responsible.

Ukraine’s Energoatom has been strangely silent on the issue. There is no mention of it on the Energoatom website although it reports on 6 February an online conference discussion with “a new team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who will arrive at the Zaporizhia station site this week to continue the work of the IAEA's permanent mission”.

There is no official statement from Energoatom on the rotation issue, but its Telegram channel reposts comments from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the Energy Minister. The Foreign Ministry “decisively condemns the blocking of the rotation of IAEA experts” to “the temporarily occupied” ZNPP. “We call on the international community to take immediate steps to extend sanctions against the Russian state-owned corporation Rosatom, its affiliates and institutions, and other key factors in Russia's nuclear energy. We emphasize the urgency of the complete cessation of cooperation with the Russian Federation in the field of nuclear technology, as well as the restriction of Russia's rights and privileges in the IAEA.” Similarly, Energy Minister Herman Galushchenko said: “We expect the findings of the IAEA missions to accelerate the imposition of sanctions against Russian nuclear energy and industry.”

Image: Zaporizhia units 5 and 6 (courtesy of Reuters)

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