The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, has confirmed that Ihor Murashov, Director General of Ukraine’s Zaporozhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), has been released from Russian custody following his detention on 30 September. “I welcome the release,” Grossi tweeted. “I have received confirmation that Mr Murashov has returned to his family safely.”
ZNPP has been controlled by Russian forces since March but continues to be operated by its Ukrainian staff. Alexei Likhachev, Director General of Rosatom, has confirmed that several employees of Rosatom are constantly at the station helping to maintain security, although they do not manage or control the station. He emphasised that no Russian Armed Forces are present ZNPP, only employees of the National Guard who guard the station, as well as special vehicles belonging to the radiation, chemical and biological protection forces. However, the status of ZNPP is now further complicated by the formal annexation of the Zaporozhye region by Russia following a referendum, which overwhelmingly supported that development.
After receiving information about the detention of Murashov, the IAEA contacted “the relevant authorities” and “in line with its nuclear safety and security mandate, has been actively seeking clarifications and hopes for a prompt and satisfactory resolution of this matter, Grossi said on 1 October. He reiterated that this detention has a very significant impact on at least two of the seven indispensable nuclear safety and security pillars that he outlined at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. “Such a detention of any member of the plant staff would be a source of grave concern in itself, but also for its psychological impact and pressure on the rest of the staff - which is detrimental to nuclear safety and security”, he said.
“Furthermore, the Director General of the ZNPP has the responsibility to ensure the nuclear safety and security of the plant. He ensures that all the plant’s operational procedures are implemented, including the ones related to nuclear safety, radiation safety of operating personnel, and to nuclear security. Additionally, he activates and leads the response to any on-site nuclear emergency,” IAEA noted. “His absence from duty in this way also has an immediate and serious impact on decision-making in ensuring the safety and security of the plant,” Grossi added.
When the IAEA requested clarification from the Russian authorities it was informed that the Murashov “was temporarily detained to answer questions”, an IAEA representative said. Telegram channel "News Feed of Zaporozhye", confirmed that the Russian military had detained Murashov. According to military correspondent Olga Kurlaeva, the director, instead of ensuring the nuclear safety of the plant, had been “engaged in collecting and transmitting classified information to the Kiev regime”.
Following his release, according to Russian media, Murashov was expelled from Russian-controlled territory through the Vasilyevka checkpoint "for discrediting the authorities of the Russian Federation" after confessing that he had been passing information to the Ukrainian intelligence services (SBU). "I communicated with SBU employee Igor Viktorovich Kazemirsky via instant messenger, via WhatsApp. The essence of communication was that I was transmitting information about the current state of affairs at the nuclear power plant," Murashov said in a report carried by Rossiya-24 TV channel (VGTRK).
ZNPP has come under heavy shelling since July. According to the TV report, the station staff prepared an appeal to Russia, Ukraine, the UN, and the IAEA demanding an end to the shelling but the appeal was not supported by Murashov who forbade the document to be published. "I did not coordinate this appeal, the text of this appeal, with Kiev, this could have affected the state interests of Ukraine," Murashov said. The report added that, when the IAEA team finally managed to visit the station to assess the situation there, Murashov minimised any communication with them.
Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom on 3 October confirmed that Murashov had been expelled to Ukrainian territory. “For the time being Ihor Murashov is safe and is in the External Crisis Centre of the ZNPP in the city of Zaporozhzhia”. Energoatom added: “The release took place due to the wide-ranging coverage of the exceptional event and the extraordinary efforts of the IAEA Director General Raphael Grossi, who played a significant role in the deliverance of Ihor Murashov from Russian captivity.”
Meanwhile attacks in the vicinity of ZNPP continue. On 1 October, IAEA experts present at the ZNPP reported that several explosions were again heard in the vicinity of the plant. As with the previous explosions reported by the IAEA earlier, they are believed to have been caused by landmines. The explosions did not result in any direct impact on the safety or security systems of the ZNPP.
The explosions indicate a continued rise in the number of landmine explosions reported outside the perimeter fence of the plant, which is controlled by Russian forces but operated by its Ukrainian staff. Grossi expressed deep concern about the repeated occurrence of such landmine explosions near the plant.
A blast on 30 September damaged a 6 kilovolt (kV) cable – which is used to provide power for some plant operations – close to a nitrogen-oxygen facility just outside the ZNPP perimeter fence. Due to a short-circuit of the cable, the explosion indirectly also damaged a voltage transformer at reactor unit 6. There was no fire, but smoke was visible. The IAEA team present at the plant checked the area and found evidence of a mine blast, with traces of the impact visible in the concrete fence and the cable tray.
Ukrainian operating staff said spare parts and other materials were available for the repair of both the cable and the transformer. The repair work will not affect availability of back-up power systems.
The incident itself did not result in any direct impact on the safety systems of the ZNPP. However, it was the sixth landmine explosion reported this week outside the perimeter fence of the plant.
Grossi reiterated his deep concern about the many landmine explosions close to the ZNPP, in an area that has also been hit by frequent shelling in recent months. He said he is continuing his consultations and other efforts aimed at agreeing and implementing a nuclear safety and security zone around the ZNPP as soon as possible.
Image: Ihor Murashov, Director General of Ukraine’s Zaporozhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (courtesy of Energoatom)