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Update 210 – IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine

12/2024
Vienna, Austria

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi took stock of the nuclear safety and security situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in person this week as part of the ongoing efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help prevent a nuclear accident during the current conflict.

During his fourth visit to the ZNPP in south-eastern Ukraine since the war began almost two years ago, Director General Grossi noted that there had been no shelling at this major facility since the establishment in May last year at the United Nations Security Council of the five concrete principles for the protection of the plant. These principles state, among others, that there should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant, and that the ZNPP should not be used as a storage or a base for heavy weapons or military personnel that could be used for an attack from the plant.

But he warned against any complacency towards the very real dangers that continue to face Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (NPP). Located on the frontline, it came under fire several times in 2022. It has also lost all off-site power eight times – most recently in December – forcing it to temporarily rely on emergency diesel generators to provide the power it needs for reactor cooling and other important nuclear safety and security functions.  

“We can see that in the observance of the five basic principles established at the United Nations Security Council, the physical integrity of the plant has been relatively stable, which is a positive development, though we take it with enormous caution,” the Director General said at the site at the end of Wednesday’s visit.

Director General Grossi also focused on other nuclear safety and security challenges at the ZNPP, including assessing the plant’s measures in recent months to find an alternative source of cooling water after the destruction in June 2023 of the downstream Kakhovka dam, draining the huge reservoir that had been providing water to the site for decades. Director General Grossi last travelled to the ZNPP just days after the dam collapsed.

To provide a constant supply of water to the sprinkler ponds cooling the site’s six reactors, the plant has drilled 11 wells that are now operating, as witnessed by Director General Grossi this week.

“For now, with all the reactors in shutdown, the plant has sufficient water for its needs. But this is not a sustainable solution, especially if and when it starts producing electricity again,” he said.

Director General Grossi also raised the crucial issue of staffing at the ZNPP, following last week’s announcement by the plant that from 1 February no workers employed by Ukraine’s national operator Energoatom are being allowed at the site. The Director General  was told at the site that the current staffing is enough considering the shutdown state of the plant and that further recruitment is ongoing.

“The number of staff had already been significantly reduced from the pre-war level of some 11,500 employees. Even though the six reactor units are in shutdown, the plant still requires sufficient numbers of qualified personnel to conduct both operational tasks and to ensure that equipment important for nuclear safety and security is properly maintained. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in this regard,” he said.

The Director General also stressed the importance of the teams of IAEA experts present at the site since September 2022 receiving the access they need to monitor adherence to the five concrete principles and also to assess the seven pillars of nuclear safety and security that he outlined early in the conflict, something which has not always been the case.

“It is important that they have access and can ask questions. There were situations where there were suggestions that they look but not talk. That is not good,” he said.

In a positive step, the ZNPP has informed the IAEA experts that they can visit all the main reactor control rooms.

Director General Grossi also went to one of the large turbine halls – of unit 4 – during his visit, as well as the same reactor’s control room, where the presence of experienced staff is especially important. This unit is the only one that is currently in hot shutdown to produce steam and heating, including for the nearby town of Enerhodar, while the five other reactors are in cold shutdown.

He was also able to see the four new diesel steam generators, which recently started operating. The IAEA has been informed that the steam generated by the new equipment will be used to process liquid waste at the plant. The ZNPP has not yet confirmed whether the steam generated by this new equipment will enable it to also place unit 4 in cold shutdown. Earlier this week, the IAEA team of experts observed liquid waste being treated in a special building, using the steam from the new diesel steam generators.

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

Director General Grossi said the visit had confirmed the crucial role of the IAEA’s permanent presence at the site and that its job was not yet done.

“Until the conflict ends without a nuclear accident with radiological consequences, we will not be able to say that our job is complete. We continue and today has been an important part of this effort,” he added.

The IAEA teams stationed at the other four sites in Ukraine continue to perform their activities despite frequent air raid alarms. The team at the Khmelnytskyy NPP was required to take shelter yesterday.

The IAEA is also continuing to support nuclear safety and security in Ukraine by delivering equipment and other assistance. In the past two weeks, two new deliveries took place, taking the total so far to 36. Thanks to funding by the United Kingdom, new equipment has been provided to the Rivne and South Ukraine NPPs as well as to the Izotop facility for radiation protection purposes or to complement available physical protection measures.

 

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Last update: 08 Feb 2024

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