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Update 121 – IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine

Vienna, Austria

Engineers at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) have been working to stabilize the facility’s fragile external power supplies following repeated outages earlier this month that forced it to temporarily rely on its emergency diesel generators for electricity, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today. 

While the nuclear safety and security situation at the ZNPP remains precarious, the plant over the past ten days has received the power it needs for reactor cooling and other essential safety and security functions directly and without interruption from the national grid, the Director General said, citing information from the IAEA experts present at the site.

In addition, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant currently also has back-up power available – if needed – through the switchyard of the nearby thermal power station. The switchyard was damaged by shelling on 19 October but repaired the following day. In recent days, the back-up power arrangements have also become more robust; a second interconnection at the 330 kilovolt (kV) thermal power plant switchyard was put into operation. This establishes a more reliable connection to the outside 330 kV power line to deliver off-site electricity to the ZNPP, if the main external connection were to fail again.

Even with these improvements, Director General Grossi stressed that the ZNPP’s power situation remained vulnerable – only one 750 kV external power line is operating compared with four before the current military conflict in Ukraine – and could deteriorate at any moment.

Earlier this month, the ZNPP’s connection to the 750 kV line was cut three times in ten days, with the last such power loss occurring on 17 October. During two of those off-site power cuts, the plant’s emergency diesel generators provided the required electricity, as the back-up system was also down.

While there has been no shelling in the area of the ZNPP site over the past week, there have still been military activities in the vicinity of the site. “This is absolutely no time for complacency. The situation could change dramatically at any point” he said.

Therefore, the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the facility remains of paramount importance, the Director General said. The Director General has in recent weeks engaged in high-level talks in Ukraine and the Russian Federation aimed at agreeing and implementing a protection zone as soon as possible.

At the ZNPP, Ukrainian staff are continuing to operate the plant, but there are more Russian technical staff now working at the site, and Russia has announced it has taken control of the facility, including now taking significant operational decisions, following the creation of a Russian state operating organisation for the site – based in Moscow.

Director General Grossi, who has made it clear that he regards the ZNPP as a Ukrainian plant, expressed concern about possible confusion regarding the chain of command for the plant’s operation, which could negatively affect nuclear safety and security.

For example, senior Ukrainian operating staff had planned to restart reactor Unit 5 but it currently remains in a hot shutdown mode as Russian officials have not agreed to start it up again. In the meantime, Unit 5 is in hot shutdown providing steam for site operations, but plant staff state that another unit will also need to be placed in hot shutdown to supply all the site’s needs in the future. The site is awaiting permission from Moscow to undertake this.

Regarding recent reports about the ZNPP’s dry spent fuel storage facility, the Director General said the IAEA was aware of work that is being carried out with the stated aim to upgrade the physical protection system there. The IAEA team at the site was informed about this work - including technical details – on 14 October. For safeguards and other purposes, the IAEA continues to have access to this facility.

Separately today, Director General Grossi reiterated that IAEA inspectors this week would carry out verification activities at two locations in Ukraine, following a written request from the Ukraine government to send teams of inspectors there.

Ukraine’s request was issued after the Russian Federation made allegations about activities related to the possible production of “dirty bombs” at the two locations, which are under IAEA safeguards and have been visited regularly by IAEA inspectors. The purpose of this week’s safeguards visits is to detect any possible undeclared nuclear activities and materials related to the development of “dirty bombs”. The IAEA inspected one of the two locations a month ago and no undeclared nuclear activities or materials were found there.

“The IAEA inspectors will conduct independent verification at these locations in accordance with Ukraine’s safeguards agreement to detect any diversion of nuclear material under safeguards, any undeclared production or processing of nuclear material at the two locations and assure that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities,” Director General Grossi said. “As soon as our verifications are completed, we will assess the findings and report our conclusions in line with our standard safeguards practice. However, knowing the interest and urgency of this matter, the Agency will also provide our conclusions to the IAEA Board of Governors and immediately after to the public.” Today, the Director General will be providing an update to the UN Security Council on this matter in a private session. 


Last update: 07 May 2024

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