Alexey Yasinsky, Director of Strategic Communications at the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) operating organisation told Rossiya 24 TV that staff at the plant were not being evacuated. Some employees had been at home due to the 9 May [Victory Day] holidays but had returned to work as normal. He clarified that the situation of ZNPP is now stable, with employees at their work stations.

Since Russia took control of ZNPP in March 2022, the Russian national guard has been protecting the station and in October, 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. Reports by Russian military analysts suggest that retaking control of ZNPP is one of the objectives of the coming Ukrainian offensive.

"I am currently on the territory of the Zaporizhia NPP,” Yasinsky said. “The power units are operating, there are no problems with them, two power units are in a state of repair, two power units are in a state of cold shutdown and one power unit is in a state of hot shutdown. The condition of the station is currently stable. All employees are at their respective workplaces… No one is being evacuated anywhere."

He added: "No additional Russian armed forces are currently stationed on the territory of the Zaporizhia NPP. Moreover, it should be noted that there were no heavy weapons or explosives on the territory of the Zaporizhia NPP, and there will not be any."

Earlier, the [Russian appointed] Governor of the Zaporozhye region Yevhen Balitsky, had said that the regional authorities had decided to suspend the operation of the reactors at the plant in face of an expected attack by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. He then gave the impression that all six reactors had been totally shutdown, including unit five, which had previously been maintained in hot shutdown to provide necessary heat to the NPP site. Yasinsky, however, has made it clear that unit 5 is still performing that service.

Yasinsky was reacting to a statement put out by Ukrainian nuclear Energoatom, which had said the “Rashists” (derogatory term used to refer to Russians) planned to evacuate more than 3,000 workers from ZNPP. This statement was widely reported by the Western media. For example, Reuters cited Energoatom as saying it had received information about preparations for the evacuation of about 3,100 people from the southern city of Enerhodar, including 2,700 workers who had signed contracts with the Russian-installed company.

However, while the Russian authorities had earlier announced that they were evacuating vulnerable civilians (children, elderly and disabled) from the ZNPP operator’s town of Energodar, Russian nuclear utility Rosenergoatom had issued a statement saying this did not include ZNPP staff. This was confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has a permanent mission stationed at ZNPP.

IAEA cited ZNPP Site Director Yuri Chernichuk as publicly stating that operating staff are not being evacuated and that they are doing everything necessary to ensure nuclear safety and security at the plant. He also said that plant equipment is maintained in accordance with all necessary nuclear safety and security regulations. Since the beginning of the conflict almost 15 months ago, the number of staff at the ZNPP has gradually declined but site management has stated that it has remained sufficient for the safe operation of the plant, IAEA said.

Energoatom said on its website: “The Russian have proved their inability to ensure the operation of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, as there is now a catastrophic lack of skilled personnel. Even those Ukrainian workers who, having signed shameful contracts, agreed to cooperate with the Rashists, are going to be "evacuated" in the near future. And this will exacerbate the already extremely urgent issue of having enough staff to ensure the safe operation of the NPP even in the current shutdown state.”

The statement continued: “Energoatom, for its part, is taking all possible measures to form the necessary number of professionals capable of ensuring the safe operation of the plant immediately after its de-occupation. This team will be formed on a rotating basis from ZNPP employees who are currently in the territory controlled by Ukraine, as well as specialists from other nuclear plants.” It called for “the fastest possible de-occupation of the Zaporizhia NPP, the expulsion of the Rashists from Enerhodar and the transfer of control over the power plant to its legitimate Ukrainian operator, Energoatom…We are ready for this.”

Meanwhile, the situation remains tense, with a Ukrainian attack on ZNPP being predicted by both Western and Russian military experts.

According to the head of Russia’s Centre for the Study of Military & Political Conflicts, Andrey Klintsevich: "In the near future, the Ukrainian Armed Forces will launch an offensive in the southern direction. The main blow, of course, will fall on the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant – this is the main prize.”

Image: Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (courtesy of TASS)