International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told the IAEA Board of Governors on 2 March that he was “gravely concerned" about the situation in Ukraine.
“It is the first time a military conflict is happening amidst the facilities of a large, established nuclear power programme, which in this case also include the site of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The safety and security of nuclear facilities, and nuclear and other radioactive material, in Ukraine must under no circumstances be endangered,” he said.
“I have called for restraint from all measures or actions that could jeopardise the security of nuclear and other radioactive material, and the safe operation of any nuclear facilities in Ukraine, because any such incident could have severe consequences, aggravating human suffering and causing environmental harm,” he added.
Grossi stressed that those who operate, regulate, inspect and assess the nuclear facilities in Ukraine must be able to “continue to do their indispensable jobs safely, unimpeded and without undue pressure”.
The IAEA has been monitoring the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities through its Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) and was receiving updates from the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU), Grossi told the Board of Governors (view the video address).
Despite the extraordinary circumstances Grossi said “Ukraine’s nuclear power plants are operating normally”. However, he emphasised that “there is nothing normal about the circumstances under which the professionals at Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants are managing to keep the reactors that produce half of Ukraine’s electricity working”.
Russia takes control of area around Zaporozhye and Chernobyl
“Russia informed us yesterday that its military forces have taken control of the territory around Ukraine’s Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, which houses six of the country’s 15 operational nuclear power reactors. It is of critical importance that the armed conflict and activities on the ground around Zaporozhye nuclear power plant and any other of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities in no way interrupts or endangers the facilities or the people working at and around them,” Grossi said.
He went on: “Russian forces have taken control of all facilities of the State Specialised Enterprise Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located within the Exclusion Zone. No casualties or destruction at the industrial site were reported. While increased levels of radiation were initially measured at the site, likely due to the movement of heavy military vehicles disturbing the soil, the IAEA assessed that they remained low enough not to pose a hazard to the public.”
He stressed the importance of the Chernobyl staff being able “to do their job safely and effectively, and that their personal wellbeing is guaranteed by those who have taken control”.
Gross said that the previous day he had received a letter from the SNRIU “requesting me to extend immediate assistance to ensure the safety of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other nuclear facilities in the country. I am conducting consultations in order to address this request for assistance.”
He recalled earlier incidents in which missiles had hit the site of a radioactive waste disposal facility in Kiev but with no reports of damage to the building or any indications of a radioactive release. This followed a strike the day before which damaged an electrical transformer at a similar disposal facility near the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, also without any reports of a radioactive release. He noed that the two incidents “highlight the risk that facilities with radioactive material may suffer damage during the armed conflict, with potentially severe consequences”.
Grossi appeals for committment to nuclear safety
He urgently appealed “to all States, without exception, to reaffirm their commitment to upholding international law and to fulfilling the obligation they agreed to when the IAEA General Conference unanimously adopted a decision in 2009 to reaffirm resolutions adopted in 1985 and 1990, stating that “any armed attack on and threat against nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes constitutes a violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and the Statute of the Agency”.
Grossi said nuclear safety depended on three main safety functions: containment, control and cooling.
- "The physical integrity of the facilities – whether it is the reactors, fuel ponds, or radioactive waste stores - must be maintained
- All safety and security systems and equipment must be fully functional at all times
- The operating staff must be able to fulfil their safety and security duties, and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure
- There must be secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites
- There must be uninterrupted logistical supply chains and transportation to and from the sites
- There must be effective on-site and off-site radiation monitoring systems and emergency preparedness and response measures
- And finally, there must be reliable communications with the regulator and others.”
As regards safeguards, Grossi told the Board that “safeguards in Ukraine are under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol of Ukraine, and that the Agency’s safeguards activities are ongoing”.
He concluded: “Let me end by saying this: the best action to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and its people would be for this armed conflict to end now."
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivers his remarks at the opening of the Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)