Nuclear safety, security and safeguards experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are continuing to work at the Chernobyl NPP to deliver equipment, conduct radiological assessments and restore safeguards monitoring systems. IAEA said on 27 April. The experts arrived at the site on 26 April as part of an IAEA assistance mission led by Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi who later the same day travelled to Kiev for high-level talks with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Minister of Energy, Herman Halushchenko.
The equipment delivered included radiation detectors, spectrometers and personal protective clothing. “The equipment, under the guidance of our staff on the ground, can be operational within minutes and can immediately support the staff at Chornobyl to fulfil their nuclear safety and security tasks,” said Carlos Torres Vidal, Director of the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre.
The IAEA team also handed over spectrometers which assess the level of radiation in the environment and provide a spectrum that is like a fingerprint identifying the type of radiation. This will help Chernobyl staff to assess the radiological situation at the site and the Exclusion Zone, spanning 30 kilometres around the plant. Spectrometers carried in personal backpacks were provided to support extended surveying with GPS mapping capabilities. The backpack lets the user focus on walking safely around an area instead of looking at a screen and numbers.
The IAEA's presence in Chornobyl will be of paramount importance, the Chernobyl NPP said in a statement. "We have been cooperating with the IAEA for many years in a row, and I am sure that now we will continue to have fruitful and successful cooperation," said Acting Director General Valeriy Seyda.
The IAEA team also included safeguards staff to conduct on-site safeguards work. They will install equipment to reactivate remote data transmission from its monitoring systems installed at the Chernobyl plant. “This is just a first step. The IAEA will be sending more equipment as we continue our assistance to Ukraine in the coming weeks and months,” added Torres Vidal.
Grossi’s visit to Chernobyl coincided with the anniversary of the nuclear accident that occurred there in 1986. He paid tribute to the lives lost at the accident and laid a wreath of flowers at its memorial. “I am here to pay respect to the victims of the nuclear accident and to all those who have worked tirelessly to rebuild and protect this place,” he said.
Grossi and his team were updated by Ukraine counterparts on the current nuclear and radiation safety, and nuclear security, situation of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. “The Agency and Ukraine have today agreed to set up a working group on Chernobyl NPP to coordinate IAEA assistance and support to staff who are working hard to keep Ukraine’s nuclear sites safe and secure,” he said. He stressed that it was not just a symbolic visit and IAEA planned to maintain a presence at Chernobyl for as long as was required.
Ukraine separately informed the IAEA on 27 April that there had been no significant new developments related to nuclear safety and security over the past 24 hours. Regarding Ukraine’s 15 operational reactors at four NPPs, Ukraine said seven are currently connected to the grid, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporozhye NPP, two at the Rovno NPP, two at the South Ukraine NPP, and one at the Khmelnitskyi NPP. The eight 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.
In an interview with Associated Press in Kyiv on 27 April, Grossi said the level of safety at the Zaporozhye plant was like a “red light blinking” as IAEA continues to try in vain to get access for work including repairs. He said IAEA needs access so its inspectors can, among other things, re-establish connections with the Vienna-based headquarters of the U.N. agency. And for that, both Russia and Ukraine need to help. The plant requires repairs, “and all of this is not happening. So the situation as I have described it, and I would repeat it today, is not sustainable as it is,” Grossi said. “So this is a pending issue. This is a red light blinking.”
He added: “Understandably, my Ukrainian counterparts do not want the IAEA inspectors to go to one of their own facilities under the authority of a third power,” Grossi said. “I had a long conversation about this with President Zelensky last night, and it’s something that will still require consultations. We are not there yet… I don’t see movement in that direction as we speak,” he said. But he is meeting with the Russian side “soon”.
Grossi noted: “There are two units that are active, in active operation, as you know, others that are in repairs or in cool down. And there are some activities, technical activities and also inspection activities that need to be performed.” He said it was “unprecedented to have a war unfolding amidst one of the world’s largest nuclear infrastructures, which, of course, makes for a number of fragile or weak points that could be, of course, exploited wittingly or unwittingly.” The situation “requires a lot of activity on our side and cooperation. Cooperation from the Russian side. Understanding from the Ukrainian side so that we can avoid an accident.”
However, Ukraine earlier made it clear that it did not favour any IAEA presence at Zaporozhye. In an exclusive interview with Interfax on 14 April, Petro Kotyn, acting president of Ukraine’s nuclear utility Energoatom was asked whether the IAEA would visit the plant while the Russian troops were in control. “I will not allow it,” he said. “We will not go for that, it is clear,” adding that “the IAEA will not do that either”. He said he “did not expect anything special” from the IAEA.
“This situation has shown that the IAEA provides no relevant guidance on actions, neither on their own, nor on the NPP operator, nor on the regulator. Nobody expected that.”