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Situation at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant ‘Untenable,’ Protection Zone Needed, IAEA’s Grossi tells Board


IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi addressed the Agency's Board of Governors meeting today at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

In his opening address to the IAEA’s Board of Governors today, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi reiterated his call for the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

Mr Grossi described the precarious situation at the plant caused by weeks of shelling in the area that has damaged vital power infrastructure and prompted operators to put the last reactor into shutdown.

He told the 35-member Board: “This situation is untenable, and we are playing with fire. We cannot continue this situation where we are one step away from a nuclear accident. The safety of Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is hanging by a thread.” Initial consultations with Ukraine and Russia to establish a protection zone have begun, he added.

At the end of August, Mr Grossi led the IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ISAMZ). The mission established a continuous IAEA presence at the site to help ensure nuclear safety and security; it also allowed inspectors to complete vital safeguards activities. Mr Grossi said that, based on the evaluation of all safeguards relevant information available to the IAEA, the Agency had found no indication that would give rise to a proliferation concern.

Verification and monitoring

Since 23 February 2021, the Agency’s verification and monitoring of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA have been seriously affected by Iran’s decision to stop the implementation of those commitments, including its commitments under the Additional Protocol.  In the Director General’s report on verification and monitoring in Iran, he highlighted that in the event of a full resumption of Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, the Agency would need to address the gap in its knowledge of what took place while its surveillance and monitoring equipment was not in operation. 

With regard to the NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr Grossi said: “Unless and until Iran provides technically credible explanations of [the] presence of uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at three undeclared locations, we are not going to be able to confirm… the completeness and the correctness of their declarations.”

Mr Grossi said that he hoped the Agency would be able to re-engage appropriately with Iran, “so that we can continue this indispensable work for international peace and security and for Iran to continue with its peaceful nuclear activities.”

The IAEA continues to monitor the nuclear programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Mr Grossi told the Board, expressing concern about activities indicating the reopening of its nuclear test site. He said that the continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme was a violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

AUKUS discussion

Mr Grossi presented a report to the Board on IAEA safeguards in relation to AUKUS. Under AUKUS, the United States and the United Kingdom have agreed to assist Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. He explained the report served as an informative summary of the Agency’s activities thus far. Mr Grossi emphasized the Agency will have its verification and non-proliferation mandate as its guiding principle.

Nuclear safety and security

Mr Grossi highlighted some of the latest developments in nuclear safety and security, including the  Seventh Review Meeting of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management (Joint Convention) which the IAEA hosted earlier this year. The Joint Convention, which has been in force since 2001 and is under the auspices of the IAEA, is the only international legally binding instrument addressing the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management on a global scale.

The Agency has also made progress in the safety review of Japan’s plans and activities related to the discharge of the treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, he said, highlighting that the IAEA will provide technical assistance before, during and after the discharge of the treated water. The IAEA Task Force set up to undertake the review has released a first report on safety of the planned water discharge, and a second report on regulatory aspects. A third report is expected to be released later this year and will provide a comprehensive overview of the IAEA’s planned activities to corroborate relevant radiological data under its broader safety review.

Mr Grossi presented the Nuclear Security Report which covers activities undertaken by the Agency in the area of nuclear security and highlights significant accomplishments within the framework of the Nuclear Security Plan.

Nuclear solutions for global challenges

The IAEA continues to assist countries in addressing some of their most pressing development challenges by assisting with the expansion in their capacity to use nuclear science and technology. To date, more than 900 participants from over 95 Member States have been trained through Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action’s (ZODIAC) virtual interregional training courses, and the first ZODIAC fellows from Indonesia, Senegal and Tunisia have completed their training on whole-genome sequencing at the Seibersdorf laboratories. The laboratories the IAEA has been equipping under ZODIAC will be instrumental in better understanding and responding to such diseases. Recently Mr Grossi discussed with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, the two organizations’ extensive collaboration including with regard to the increasing threat of zoonotic disease outbreaks affecting people across the world.

Helping countries adapt to climate change and ensure a secure supply of food and water, is an important area of the IAEA’s work thanks to game-changing solutions offered by nuclear science and technology. Last week, Mr Grossi met with Qu Dongyu, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in Rome, where they discussed  how to further strengthen their cooperation, in particular in the area of food security, he said.

In relation to the energy and climate crisis, the IAEA together with the United States, will host the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, in Washington DC, from 26 to 28 October. It will offer a forum for government leaders, industry representatives, policy makers and experts from around the world to discuss the key challenges and opportunities nuclear power presents in the context of energy security and climate change. Mr Grossi encouraged all Member States to take part in this unique event.

Following the Ministerial Conference, the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, will take place in Egypt. There, the IAEA will build on its achievements at last year’s COP by highlighting the key role of nuclear science and technology in supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation, Mr Grossi said.

The Board of Governors is meeting at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna from 12-16 September.

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