IAEA warns of grave situation at Ukrainian nuclear plant

The Director General of the International  Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has described the situation at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant as gravely concerning as he and his team continue to inspect the facility in Ukraine.

Mariano Grossi (pic) and his team arrived at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) last week to inspect the plant which has been the subject of extensive shelling amid fears that the reactor and its storage facilities have been damaged.

At the ZNPP, the IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ) team have been carrying out detailed work to assess the physical damage to the plant’s facilities, determine the functionality of the main and back-up safety and security systems and evaluate the staff’s working conditions, in addition to performing urgent safeguards activities on the site.

“The difference between having the IAEA at the site and not having us there is like day and night,” Grossi explained. “I remain gravely concerned about the situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, this hasn’t changed, but the continued presence of the IAEA will be of paramount importance in helping to stabilise the situation. I’m immensely proud of the critically important and courageous work the IAEA team is now able to perform at the ZNPP.”

At present the plant has once again lost the connection to its last remaining main external power line, but the facility is continuing to supply electricity to the grid through a reserve line.

The IAEA added that the 330/750 kV reserve line linking the facility to a nearby thermal power plant was delivering the electricity the ZNPP generates to the external grid. The same reserve line can also provide back-up power to the ZNPP if needed.

In addition, plant management informed the IAEA team that one of the ZNPP’s two operating units was disconnected in the afternoon today due to grid restrictions.

One reactor is still operating and producing electricity both for cooling and other essential safety functions at the site and for households, factories and others through the grid. The ZNPP is held by Russian forces since early March, but its Ukrainian staff are continuing to operate the plant.

“Our team on the ground received direct, fast and reliable information about the latest significant development affecting the plant’s external power situation, as well as the operational status of the reactors. We already have a better understanding of the functionality of the reserve power line in connecting the facility to the grid. This is crucial information in assessing the overall situation there,” added Grossi.

“The great value of finally having the IAEA permanently present at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is already abundantly clear. It is a game changer,” he said, adding that the IAEA remained in close contact with its Ukrainian counterparts and continued to receive valuable updates about the situation from them.

Grossi added that underlining the fragile nuclear safety and security situation, there had been continued shelling of the site from 29 August up to the day before he and his team arrived at the ZNPP. There was damage to the facility’s solid radioactive waste storage, the ventilation pipe of special building 1, and the ZNPP training building.

It comes as Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the IAEA team’s arrival and work at the plant.

On the IAEA’s mission he said: “The fact itself despite all the provocations by the Russian military and the cynical shelling of Enerhodar and the territory of the plant. Ukraine did everything to make this mission happen. But it is bad that the occupiers are trying to turn this IAEA mission – a really necessary one – into a fruitless tour of the plant. I believe that this will be prevented.

“It is good that the IAEA representatives have an opportunity to draw objective conclusions about the risks that have arisen at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for the first time in history.

“Moreover, the risks that have arisen precisely because of the occupiers. The main thing is to have the will to draw objective conclusions. Constant shelling, the presence of Russian military and weapons at the plant, tormenting Ukrainian personnel and attempts to put the plant under the control of Rosatom representatives who are not at all capable of a responsible attitude towards such an object… These are the reasons for the risks.”

Zelenskyy added: “We are hopeful that the mission will nevertheless draw objective conclusions from the circumstances at the plant. For more than three decades, 5 facilities have been under the control of our specialists – the Chornobyl plant and 4 operational nuclear power plants. The IAEA never had any claims regarding the activities of any of these facilities until Russia invaded our territory and brought its madness here.”

At present the plant has once again lost the connection to its last remaining main external power line, but the facility is continuing to supply electricity to the grid through a reserve line.