Ukraine’s Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) has completed drilling ten groundwater wells, bringing the plant closer to having a longer-term solution for the provision of cooling water to the shutdown reactors after destruction of the Kakhovka dam in June, according to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.
Since Russia took control of ZNPP in March 2022 as part of its special military operation in Ukraine, the Russian national guard, Rosgvardiya, has been protecting the station. 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. However, Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom still claims ownership of the plant.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling that has repeatedly downed power lines vital to cooling the reactors, which are shut down but which need a constant supply of electricity to keep the nuclear fuel inside cool and prevent a possible meltdown. Russia and Ukraine also accused each other of destroying the Nova Kakhovka dam, drastically reducing levels in the Kakhovka reservoir, which provides cooling water for the plant.
More than 200 cubic metres of water can now be supplied to the sprinkler ponds that cool the six reactors and used fuel. The IAEA has been informed that the site intends to drill an additional well bringing the total to 11, which is hoped to provide the approximately 250 cubic metres of water per hour to maintain the cooling of the reactors and spent fuel in the current shutdown state. The ZNPP cooling pond remains intact, containing a large volume of water that can also provide cooling for many months.
IAEA experts continued to conduct walkdowns of the ZNPP this week. The team visited the main control rooms of units 2, 5 and 6 where they observed that units 2 and 5 remain in cold shutdown and unit 6 in hot shutdown. In addition, the team visited the emergency diesel generators for units 4 and 5 and performed walkdowns within the perimeter of the ZNPP. The team did not observe any heavy weapons but confirmed that the previously reported mines remain in place.
Staffing levels of the plant continue to be a concern with a significant number of staff having left the ZNPP since the start of the armed conflict, including licensed operators from the main control rooms. IAEA experts were informed by the ZNPP that recruitment of additional staff from Russian nuclear power plants (NPPs) continues and that they are being trained and licensed under the Russian Federation’s regulations. The IAEA team continues to gather information on the number and qualifications of main control room operators to better understand the situation.
The IAEA experts continue to confirm that radiation levels at the site remain normal after performing radiation monitoring using the IAEA mobile backpack system. The monitoring results are published on the IAEA’s International Radiation Monitoring Information System (IRMIS).
There has been no change to the status of off-site power to the ZNPP, with the site receiving electricity from the last remaining of four original 750 kilovolt (kV) lines and from one of the six original 330 kV lines connected to the Ukraine electricity grid. The IAEA team was given no information about the possible restoration of other high voltage lines.
Underling the potential dangers for nuclear security during the conflict in Ukraine, the IAEA experts have continued to hear numerous explosions some distance away from the ZNPP.
IAEA experts at the Rivne NPP in Ukraine also reported that a blackout occurred in the morning of 21 September in the nearby town of Varash – caused by the emergency shutdown of the 110 kV power line that supplies electricity to the town from the Rivne NPP. The plant management says this may have been caused by missile attacks in the region. Power was restored within one hour and there was no impact on the safe and secure operation of the plant.
“These reports are yet another reminder of the potential nuclear safety and security risks faced by nuclear facilities and to the staff of the facilities during the military conflict in the country”, Director General Grossi said.
This week, IAEA teams at Ukraine’s other NPPs and the Chornobyl site report safe and secure operation of the nuclear facilities despite the continuation of the armed conflict. All the teams at the four sites are due to rotate over the next week.
Also in the past week, the Agency arranged two deliveries of equipment to Ukraine, bringing the total number of deliveries to 24 since the start of the armed conflict. With these deliveries, Khmelnitsky, Rivne and South Ukraine NPPs, as well as USIE Izotop, received various items such as IT equipment, medical equipment and supplies as well as laboratory equipment and nuclear security related systems. The deliveries were funded by extrabudgetary contributions from Canada and Japan.