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Update 160 – IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine

Vienna, Austria

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has been without external back-up power for three months now, leaving it extremely vulnerable in case the sole functioning main power line goes down again and underlining the importance of adhering to five principles established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the protection of the facility during the military conflict, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said today.

One of the five concrete principles that the Director General presented to the United Nations Security Council on 30 May – aimed at preventing a nuclear accident – states that off-site power to the ZNPP “should not be put at risk” and that “all efforts should be made to ensure that off-site power remains available and secure at all times”.

The other principles outlined in Tuesday’s meeting at the Security Council included commitments not to attack from or against the plant, not using it as storage or a base for heavy weapons, and to protect structures, systems and components essential to its safe and secure operation from attacks or acts of sabotage.

“While the principles won broad support at the United Nations Security Council, which is very encouraging and an important step forward for ensuring nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, the general situation at the site remains highly precarious and potentially dangerous,” Director General Grossi said.

“The site’s fragile power situation continues to be a source of deep concern and – as the newly-established IAEA principles indicate – there is a need for intensified efforts to ensure a more stable and predictable external electricity supply,” he said.

The ZNPP continues to rely on the only remaining operational 750 kilovolt (kV) power line for the external electricity it needs for reactor cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions. Before the conflict, the plant had four such off-site power lines available.

A back-up 330 kV power line that was damaged on 1 March on the other side of the Dnipro River as seen from the Russian-controlled ZNPP has still not been repaired, with Ukraine having said that military action has prevented its experts from safely accessing the location situated in territory it controls to repair the line.

The lack of any back-up options means that when the 750 kV line is cut – as happened most recently on 22 May – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (NPP) is forced to rely on emergency diesel generators as a last line of defence, clearly an unsustainable situation.

The IAEA experts at the site recently visited the ZNPP 750 kV open switchyard, where they confirmed that three of the power lines remained disconnected and learned that some parts for repairing them were being manufactured but the delivery date is not known.

The nearby Zaporizhzhya Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP) operates the 330 kV open switchyard, through which back-up power in the past has been provided to the ZNPP. The Russian Federation reported in March that Rosatom was working to remove damaged equipment from the open switchyard, with the aim of restoring three 330 kV lines to the grid system in currently Russian-controlled territory. The IAEA team of experts present at the ZNPP has still not been granted access to the ZTPP to assess the situation, despite assurances from Rosatom that they would be able to go there. Consultations are ongoing to secure the access.

“Our experts must access the ZTPP to see for themselves what the current situation is like and whether it might be possible to restore back-up power there,” Director General Grossi said.

Over the past week, the IAEA team reported hearing two landmine explosions just outside the ZNPP site, again highlighting the tense situation amid intense speculation of imminent military action in the region and the need to observe the Agency’s five principles.

“As I told the United Nations Security Council just a few days ago, I respectfully and solemnly ask both sides to observe these five principles, which are essential to avoid the danger of a catastrophic incident. These principles are to no one’s detriment and to everyone’s benefit,” Director General Grossi said.

“At Tuesday’s meeting, both sides expressed strong support for our work to ensure nuclear safety and security. Everyone agrees that a nuclear accident must not happen. Based on their statements, I expect that these five basic principles will be adhered to,” he said. “If there are any violations, which I sincerely hope there won’t be, I will not hesitate to report about them publicly.”

Director General Grossi expressed concern about the disconnection on 17 May of the automatic data transfer from eight radiation monitoring stations located near the ZNPP to Ukrainian authorities and said the IAEA is addressing this issue with plant management and relevant officials.

Ukraine has been providing the data to the IAEA International Radiation Monitoring Information System (IRMIS), which gathers near real-time radiation monitoring data from over 6000 stations worldwide that are part of nationally operated networks.

“I hope that we can re-establish a reliable connection to continue to monitor radiation levels soon. It is vital for nuclear safety and security,” Director General Grossi said. “In case of a nuclear or radiological emergency anywhere in the world, IRMIS supports the assessment of the radiological situation and provides critical data to immediately inform emergency response decision makers.”

In the absence of the automatic connection, the daily radiation monitoring data from the eight stations are provided to the IAEA team at the ZNPP and, subsequently, made available on IRMIS.

The IAEA experts at the site also reported on their recent visits to the main control rooms of the ZNPP’s six reactors. While the plant has been negatively affected by a considerable reduction in staffing levels during the conflict – limiting maintenance and other vital work – there is still enough operating personnel in the control rooms, the IAEA team reported.

The planned rotation of the current team of IAEA experts at the site – the eighth since the mission was established last September – has been delayed because of local weather conditions.

Director General Grossi also said he expected to visit the ZNPP soon himself, which would be the third time during the conflict.

“With the establishment of the five principles – and my intention to report about any violations – it is important that I travel to the plant again to assess developments there since my last visit in late March,” he said.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, the team of IAEA experts at the South Ukraine NPP (SUNPP) reported that a reactor unit that experienced an emergency shutdown on 22 May has returned to full power. IAEA teams present at Ukraine’s other NPPs said spent fuel transports to the centralized spent fuel storage at the Chornobyl site are being resumed after more than a year.

In the last week, new teams of IAEA experts arrived at the SUNPP, Chornobyl, Rivne NPP and Khmelnitsky NPP sites in Ukraine. The IAEA established a permanent presence at these four sites in January, as part of its expanding activities to support nuclear safety and security in Ukraine during the conflict.

In April, Director General Grossi informed President Volodymyr Zelensky that the IAEA is putting in place a comprehensive programme of health care assistance, including psychological support, for all Ukrainian nuclear workers. Today, the Director General announced that IAEA experts are on their way to several Ukrainian NPPs to deliver essential medical equipment and support.

“We must never forget the brave staff of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, who are carrying out their vital work tasks in very challenging and stressful circumstances. The medical support we are now delivering is designed to help them during these unimaginably difficult times and, by doing so, also support nuclear safety and security in general,” he said.

In recent days, the IAEA arranged two more deliveries of equipment to Ukraine. Satellite communication systems, antennas and spectrometers were delivered to the national regulator, SNRIU, and the SUNPP. The deliveries were made possible thanks to contributions from the United Kingdom and the United States of America. With 18 deliveries since the start of the conflict, the IAEA has facilitated an international assistance package totalling €5 million to Ukraine in support of nuclear safety and security.

Separately, Ukraine informed the IAEA that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) had been detected on 29 May near the Khmelnitsky NPP, saying it constituted “a threat to nuclear safety” from the air.


Last update: 07 May 2024

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