IAEA monitors staffing at Zaporizhia NPP and investigates drone attacks

20 February 2024

In his latest update on the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said IAEA experts are continuing to closely monitor the staffing situation at the plant.

Earlier, the IAEA team visited the ZNPP’s training centre and its simulators, where they observed staff training, including main control room operators receiving additional simulator training for units other than those where they were working. The IAEA experts were informed that ZNPP is extending these operators’ "authorisations" to all six reactor units. In the past, ZNPP had two types of licences for its main control room operators, one for units 1-4 and another for units 5-6.

Russia took control of ZNPP in March 2022 as part of its special military operation in Ukraine. In October 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree formally transferring ZNPP to Russian jurisdiction under nuclear utility Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom). A Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise. Zaporizhia NPP was established by Rosenergoatom to operate the plant and is now transferring the plant to Russian operating and safety standards.

The IAEA experts also observed Russian nuclear regulator Rostekhnadzor inspecting authorisations of operating staff at the main control rooms of units 2-4. The IAEA team was informed of new regulations for the ZNPP, issued by the Russian Federation, which stipulates that units in cold shutdown must have at least three staff in their main control rooms, a requirement rising to four when the unit is in hot shutdown (currently unit 4). The IAEA team confirmed observance of these staffing requirements in units 2-4.

The team was also informed of refresher training requirements for operators including psychological assessments. The training centre currently has 119 of an original 260 instructors who provide training in different fields, also including radiation and fire protection. The ZNPP has told the IAEA experts that there are enough certified personnel at the plant and that all essential positions are fully filled.

Grossi said the staffing situation at ZNPP had been one of his main concerns related to nuclear safety and security at the site, including the extremely stressful work environment in war conditions. “The number of staff has more than halved over the past two years. Despite the site’s shutdown status, it still needs enough qualified staff. Our experts have this week acquired more information on the training of staff, a crucial issue that they will continue to follow closely,” he noted.

In addition, IAEA experts visited the nearby operators’ town of in Energodar to assess damage that the Russian Federation said was caused by drone attacks. In line with its mandate to monitor compliance with the five concrete principles for protecting the ZNPP, the IAEA team requested access and went to Energodar hours after the plant informed them that four drone attacks had taken place there the previous afternoon. There were no casualties reported.

The experts were escorted to two of the four alleged attack sites. At one site, the City Hall which neighbours a ZNPP administrative building used for communications, the experts observed significant damage to the façade of the building, including some damaged windows, as well as rubble from the building. However, the team did not observe any remnants of the drone, which had reportedly been removed, and was therefore not able to confirm whether the damage observed was directly related to a drone attack the previous day, or was damage sustained previously.

At the other site, a school garden, the IAEA experts observed a broken window. There were no remnants of the drone, which the team were informed had been removed before their arrival.

Over the past week, the IAEA experts have continued to hear explosions some distance away from the ZNPP, a constant reminder of the potential risks to nuclear safety and security. In line with the five concrete principles, Grossi reiterated his call on all parties to refrain from any military action that could pose a threat to the plant.

At the ZNPP site, the IAEA experts continued to conduct walkdowns, including of the reactor hall, safety systems rooms, turbine hall, and emergency diesel generators of reactor unit 2. The team observed a lubrication oil spill near a used fuel pool cooling pump and a water leak on another pump of the same safety system. ZNPP subsequently informed the IAEA experts that the oil spill had been cleaned. IAEA noted that the team was not given access to the western part of the turbine hall of unit 2.

The IAEA team also reported that the site’s four new diesel steam generators were turned off last week as the existing wastewater had been treated. The team was informed that they will be restarted once sufficient additional wastewater accumulates for processing.

The plant’s nine mobile diesel boilers remain switched off due to the recent warmer temperatures. District heating is being provided by the large boilers located at the Zaporizhia thermal power plant and the industrial area, and from unit 4 which remains in hot shutdown.

Russian nuclear utility Rosenergoatom, commenting on the IAEA report, noted “the apparent distrust” of experts in not confirming the drone attacks. Rosenergoatom said this is not surprising, since they are not objective “although who in their right mind would invent the fact of drones being fired?”

Noting that IAEA experts continue to hear explosions at some distance from the NPP, Rosenergoatom commented that the IAEA only repeated its call to all parties to refrain from any military action, “even though the strikes were carried out by the Armed Forces of Ukraine”.

On the inspection of the reactor hall, security system rooms, engine room and emergency diesel generators at unit 2, Rosenergoatom confirmed that the oil spill had been cleaned up and that it had not granted access to the western part of the power unit's engine room “for security reasons”.

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