The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its latest update on the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) said it was informed about a further attempted drone attack on the plant’s training centre, which caused no damage or casualties. It was the third reported attack targeting the training facility recently, following two such incidents the previous week. ZNPP told the IAEA team stationed at the site that the drone had been “neutralised”, without giving further details. The IAEA team heard an explosion at the same time that ZNPP subsequently reported the attempted drone attack took place. The team was denied access to the training centre just outside the ZNPP site perimeter to assess the incident, with the plant citing potential security risks.

This occurred less than two weeks after a series of drone attacks significantly deepened concerns about the already precarious nuclear safety and security situation at the plant, which is located on the frontline of the conflict. “Whoever is behind these incidents, they appear to be ignoring the international community’s repeated calls for maximum military restraint to avert the very real threat of a serious nuclear accident, which could have significant health and environmental consequences and benefit absolutely no one,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. “So far, the drone strikes have not compromised nuclear safety at the site. But, as I told the United Nations Security Council a few days ago, these reckless attacks must cease immediately.”

Earlier in the week, a new team of IAEA experts arrived at the ZNPP, crossing the frontline of the conflict on Tuesday to replace their colleagues who had been monitoring the situation at the ZNPP for the past several weeks. This is the 18th team of IAEA experts at the plant since Director General Grossi established a permanent presence there in September 2022 to help prevent a nuclear accident during the military conflict.

“Throughout this time, we have developed working constructive relations with the IAEA,” said ZNPP Plant Director Yuri Chernichuk. “The presence of experts at ZNPP is a positive factor in ensuring the safety of the station. Especially now – in the light of the aggravation of the situation around the station by the enemy.” According to ZNPP, the new IAEA team includes four inspectors from Finland, Pakistan and South Africa.

“Our presence at the ZNPP is needed more than ever. As I also informed the Security Council, we are getting dangerously close to a nuclear accident. This month’s drone attacks were the first clear violation of the five concrete principles for the protection of the site that I established at the Security Council almost one year ago,” Grossi said.

“I sincerely hope that our calls for maximum military restraint – both at the IAEA Board of Governors and the United Nations Security Council – will be heeded before it is too late. The dangers facing the plant have not gone away, as shown by today’s reported drone explosion.”

Whilst all reactors are now in cold shutdown, nuclear safety and security remains fragile. The new IAEA team will therefore continue to monitor the status of the plant against the seven indispensable pillars for nuclear safety and security as well as the five concrete principles to prevent a nuclear accident.

“In particular, the team will focus its attention on the extent and effectiveness of ongoing maintenance activities, which are of paramount importance, especially considering the reduced level of maintenance performed at the site since the start of the conflict more than two years ago,” IAEA noted.

Maintenance activities on the electrical transformers of reactor unit 1 are ongoing, as are those on part of the safety systems of unit 2, which are expected to be completed by the end of April.

The IAEA team was also informed by ZNPP that its radiation protection programme has been reviewed and is now aligned with the regulatory framework of the Russian Federation. The ZNPP said the radiation exposures to its staff had dropped significantly due to the site’s shutdown state and the absence of major maintenance performed on the six reactor units.

The IAEA team carried out a walkdown within the site perimeter. The IAEA experts were able to confirm that there were no heavy weapons in the areas they visited. However, they still do not receive permission to visit all areas on site, especially the western side of the turbine halls, the ZNPP cooling pond isolation gate, and the 330 kilovolt (kV) open switchyard of the nearby Zaporizhia Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP).

Also, over the past week, the IAEA experts visited the reactor building and containment of unit 2 to observe a routine swap of the cooling pumps for its used fuel pool.

They also looked into the site’s water situation – challenged by last year’s destruction of the Kakhovka dam – and were informed that about 5000 cubic metres of water are pumped from the discharge channel of the ZTPP to the ZNPP cooling pond each day. The 11 groundwater wells built after the dam was destroyed provide a similar amount of water each day for cooling of the reactor units and used fuel.

At the press conference that followed his recent address to the UN Security Council, Grossi explained why the IAEA avoided assigning responsibility for the attacks on ZNPP. “We are not commentators. We are not political speculators or analysts; we are an international agency of inspectors. And in order to say something like that, we must have proof, indisputable evidence, that an attack, or remnants of ammunition or any other weapon, is coming from a certain place. And in this case it is simply impossible." He added: “This is why we keep the information as accurate as we can. And we do not trade into speculating." He insisted that, if there was definitive proof "the IAEA would not be in the business of hiding anything … if we have evidence of something, we do not have a problem in reporting, but we have to be extremely measured in what we do".

He said the voice of the IAEA is very important, the credibility of the IAEA must be preserved. “I am the guardian of this institution and I have to measure the words, so that when we put something on the public domain, it's something that is concrete and proven."

Earlier in April, the First Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration, Sergey Kiriyenko, visited ZNPP. He discussed ensuring nuclear safety with the plant's management. "All the personnel's efforts are aimed at maintaining a safe operating mode," said NPP Director Yuri Chernichuk. Rosatom, together with the Russian Defence Ministry and Rosgvardiya, is helping Zaporizhia NPP strengthen site safety.

A number of actions had been and were being taken. The supply of diesel fuel for autonomous operation of diesel generator sets for security systems is constantly replenished. Seven more mobile diesel generator sets have been delivered to the site. Eleven additional wells have been installed along the perimeter of the splash pool to ensure sustainable water supply. Nine block modular boiler houses for heating mains water have been installed. Four mobile diesel boilers were delivered to generate steam for their own needs. NPP physical protection has been restored. Protection of the used nuclear fuel storage facilities has been strengthened.

Meanwhile, ZNPP Communications Director Yevgenia Yashina told RIA Novosti that the plant would be restarted “only after the situation normalises and all conditions are in place to ensure energy security”. She noted that both technically and organisationally, the NPP is ready to do everything to restore its operation. “But for recovery, in addition to meeting all the conditions that ensure safety, it is also necessary to take time. We depend on many external factors, including a network connection, " she noted. Meanwhile all six units of the plant remain in cold shutdown.

Image: Zaporizhia nuclear power plant