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Update 209 – IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine

10/2024
Vienna, Austria

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) travels to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) next week to discuss and assess important issues and recent developments related to the still fragile nuclear safety and security situation at the site, including the reduced number of staff working at this major facility.

It will be the fourth time Director General Grossi crosses the frontline of the war to visit the ZNPP, whose six reactors have all been in shutdown for nearly eighteen months and produce no electricity but still hold large amounts of nuclear fuel that must be kept safe, including adequately cooled, and secure.

Before heading to the plant in the country’s south-east, he will on Tuesday hold high-level talks in the capital Kyiv.

As part of the IAEA’s continuous efforts to help prevent a nuclear accident, the Director General is expected to address and seek to make progress on several current nuclear safety and security challenges at the ZNPP, including potential risks related to the plant’s equipment maintenance activities.

The Director General will also raise the crucial issue of staffing at the ZNPP and request further information about a new announcement by the plant that from today no workers employed by Ukraine’s national operator Energoatom will be allowed at the site. The staff working at the ZNPP now consists of former Energoatom employees who have adopted Russian citizenship and signed employment contracts with the Russian operating entity, as well as staff who have been sent to the ZNPP from the Russian Federation. The ZNPP told the IAEA team at the site today that there are enough certified personnel at the plant and all positions are fully filled.

“I will discuss this latest development when I visit the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant next week. It is of crucial importance that the plant has the qualified and skilled staff that it needs for nuclear safety and security. The number of staff has already been reduced significantly since the war began almost two years ago,” Director General Grossi said.

This week, prior to today’s announcement, the IAEA experts continued to ask the ZNPP to provide more detailed information to fully understand and assess the situation in this regard, in particular about staff operating the main control rooms and those responsible for the maintenance of critical safety infrastructure and processes.

The ZNPP stated to the IAEA experts earlier this week that nominal staffing levels for nuclear power plants operated by Rosatom are significantly lower than the corresponding staffing levels of Ukraine. The IAEA experts were informed that there currently are 4500 staff employed by the Russian operating entity at the ZNPP and 940 applications under consideration. Prior to the start of the armed conflict there were approximately 11500 staff working at the ZNPP.

At the United Nations Security Council on 25 January, Director General Grossi said the plant has been “operating on significantly reduced staff, who are under unprecedented psychological pressure - which despite the reactors being shutdown is not sustainable”.

At the ZNPP, the Director General will also stress the importance of timely access for the IAEA to all parts of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (NPP) relevant to nuclear safety and security. Access is needed for the IAEA teams based at the ZNPP to fully assess the seven pillars of nuclear safety and security at the ZNPP and also to monitor adherence to the five concrete principles for the protection of the plant.

Accompanying the Director General, a new group of IAEA experts will next week replace the current Agency team at the site. It will be the 16th team of the IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ) since it was established on 1 September 2022.  

“The permanent presence of IAEA experts has been instrumental in helping to stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant to some extent. But – as I told the United Nations Security Council last week – the world cannot afford to be complacent,” Director General Grossi said.

“I decided to travel to the site again to underline the potential risks the plant is continuing to face on a daily basis and to reiterate and reinforce the IAEA’s commitment to do everything in our power to help ensure nuclear safety and security at this site, as well as at Ukraine’s other nuclear facilities,” he said.

At the ZNPP, the current IAEA team of experts have conducted walkdowns across the site this week, visiting the reactor hall of unit 1 and its safety system rooms, in some of which they observed the presence of boric acid deposits. The IAEA experts have previously seen deposits of boric acid in units 3 and 6. Borated water is used in the primary coolant to help maintain nuclear safety functions.

This week, ISAMZ also visited the two fresh fuel storage facilities, the dry spent fuel storage facility and water sprinkler ponds. The team performed backpack radiation monitoring measurements on site, confirming that radiation levels were normal.

The 11 wells that were built near the sprinkler ponds following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam last June are providing cooling water for the six shutdown reactors and spent nuclear fuel.

Five of the ZNPP’s six reactors remain in cold shutdown, while unit 4 is in hot shutdown to produce steam and heat, including for the nearby town of Enerhodar, where most plant staff live.

On Monday, the team observed part of the commissioning work on the new diesel steam generators (DSG), and was today informed by the plant that they had started operating. The IAEA has been informed that the steam generated by the new equipment will be used to process liquid waste. The ZNPP has not yet confirmed whether the steam generated by this new equipment will enable it to place all reactor units in cold shutdown.

Due to recent milder temperatures, the site has been able to reduce the number of mobile diesel boilers operating to four, out of the nine such units. These boilers provide heating to the plant as well as to Enerhodar.

The team was informed that maintenance had been completed on the back-up power transformer, following a failure earlier this month, and has resumed operation. The ZNPP said it will soon inform the IAEA team about the cause of the failure.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, the IAEA experts present at the Khmelnitsky, Rivne and South Ukraine NPPs as well as at the Chornobyl site have reported that nuclear safety and security is being maintained despite the challenging war-time circumstances, including frequent air raid alarms at some of the facilities. The IAEA teams at the three operating NPPs rotated during the past week.

 

 

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Last update: 06 Feb 2024

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