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IAEA Director General Statement to United Nations Security Council

United Nations Security Council

(As prepared for delivery)

I thank the President of the Security Council in allowing me the opportunity today to update you on IAEA activities concerning nuclear safety, security and safeguards in Ukraine. I also thank the Council for their continuing support for the IAEA’s efforts.

I have addressed the Council on the situation in Ukraine five times before, on 4 March, 11 August, 6 September, 27 October in 2022, and 30 May last year.

It is now nearly two years since the beginning of the war, and I remind you that it is the first time in history that a war is being fought amid the facilities of a major nuclear power programme.

This includes several of Ukraine’s five nuclear power plants and other facilities that have come under direct shelling. All NPPs have lost off-site power at some point.

Furthermore, one of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, the Zaporizhzhya NPP, has been under Russian operational control with the presence of Russian troops on-site for almost all of that time.

And as you know the IAEA has been closely monitoring the situation and assisting Ukraine every single day since the start of the war.

Shortly after the start of the war, I elaborated the Seven Indispensable Pillars for ensuring nuclear safety and security during an armed conflict. These are:

  1. The physical integrity of facilities – whether it is the reactors, fuel ponds or radioactive waste stores – must be maintained.
  2. All safety and security systems and equipment must be fully functional at all times.
  3. The operating staff must be able to fulfil their safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure.
  4. There must be a secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites.
  5. There must be uninterrupted logistical supply chains and transportation to and from the sites.
  6. There must be effective on-site and off-site radiation monitoring systems, and emergency preparedness and response measures.
  7. There must be reliable communication with the regulator and others.

And in my previous update to the Council on 30 May I reported that, as a result of intensive consultations with the leadership of Ukraine, as well as of the Russian Federation, I had further established five concrete principles for the ZNPP in order to prevent a nuclear accident and ensure the integrity of the plant, namely:

  1. There should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant, in particular targeting the reactors, spent fuel storage, other critical infrastructure, or personnel;
  2. ZNPP should not be used as storage or a base for heavy weapons (i.e. multiple rocket launchers, artillery systems and munitions, and tanks) or military personnel that could be used for an attack from the plant;
  3. Off-site power to the plant should not be put at risk. To that effect, all efforts should be made to ensure that off-site power remains available and secure at all times;
  4. All structures, systems and components essential to the safe and secure operation of ZNPP should be protected from attacks or acts of sabotage;
  5. No action should be taken that undermines these principles.

I said that these commitments are essential to avoid the danger of a catastrophic nuclear incident and I had respectfully and solemnly asked both sides to observe them.

I was pleased that at that meeting last May distinguished Members of the Security Council and Ukraine clearly supported those principles.

Furthermore, I said that the experts on the IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ), who have been on-site since 1 September 2022, would report to me on the observance of these principles and that I would report publicly on any violations.

Now nine months later, I wish to report today on the nuclear safety security and safeguards situation in Ukraine, and the Agency’s continued activities including the Agency’s assessment against the seven pillars and our monitoring of these five principles.

Mr. President,

Firstly, I wish to report on the scope and extent of our activities over nearly two years,

There has been a total of 102 missions to Ukraine. I have personally led eight of them, including three to ZNPP and I will shortly be leading another one to ZNPP within the next two weeks.

We have the 15th ISAMZ team of our dedicated and courageous international staff at the ZNPP, a plant that is still on the front lines of this war and our staff who still have to cross that front line to undertake this vital work. 37 of our staff have been part of these teams at ZNPP, a number of them more than once.

For a year we have had other dedicated IAEA experts stationed at every other major Ukrainian nuclear site: Rivne NPP, South Ukraine NPP, Khmelnytskyy NPP and at the Chornobyl NPP – their presence allowing us to provide the international community with reliable information on the nuclear safety and security situation at each of those sites as well. More than 100 of our staff have been part of these teams, totalling more than 3662 person-days of our staff in Ukraine.

Since I last addressed you, thanks to the generosity of Member States, the Agency has purchased armoured vehicles and recruited additional staff, security officers and drivers, and now manages our own security for the missions, thereby relieving some of the pressures on the United Nations Departments of Safety and Security and Operational Support.

We continue to facilitate an international assistance package now totalling more than €8.5 million with 34 deliveries of vital equipment to Ukraine, and I again thank Member States for their contributions.

We have developed a proposal for the Agency to provide advice, training, and equipment in the area of the safety and security of radioactive sources in Ukraine.

We have put together a programme of health care assistance including through equipment and psychological support for all Ukrainian nuclear workers.

I also announced the new programme for assistance of the Kherson Oblast aimed at managing the adverse impact associated with the flooding after the Kakhovka dam destruction and we work with Ukraine to identify their immediate needs in this area.

In addition to our work on nuclear safety and security we are also continuing our vital safeguards verification activities across Ukraine, ensuring that there is no diversion of nuclear material for military purposes. Based on these activities the Agency has not found any indication that would give rise to a proliferation concern.

And we are keeping the world informed of the situation at Ukraine’s nuclear sites with now well over 200 web statements and updates, 9 reports and multiple briefings, including to the United Nations General Assembly and to your distinguished selves at the Security Council. Thanks to this, the international community has at its disposal timely, technically sound and objective information, thus avoiding the risks associated with lack of information and misinformation, including misperceptions which might lead to decisions with serious implications.

Mr. President,

The nuclear safety and security situation at the ZNPP - in particular - continues to be extremely fragile.

The plant’s six reactors have been shut down since mid-2022 – five of them in cold shutdown and one in hot shutdown. But the potential dangers of a major nuclear accident remain very real.

Although the plant has not been shelled for a considerable time, significant military activities continue in the region and sometime in the vicinity of the facility, with our staff reporting rockets flying overhead close to the plant, thereby putting at risk the physical integrity of the plant.

The plant needs secure and uninterrupted sources of external cooling water. The destruction of the Kakhovka dam in early June last year, just days after I last reported to the Council, led to a large reduction in the water level of the reservoir. Consequently, the depth of the water in the reservoir was no longer sufficient to supply water and considerable efforts on site were needed, including the drilling of wells on site, to provide sufficient cooling water for the six shutdown reactor units.

The plant has been operating on significantly reduced staff, who are under unprecedented psychological pressure - which despite the reactors being shut-down is not sustainable.

The reduced number of qualified and trained operating personnel and the challenging supply chain has had a negative impact on the maintenance of equipment which is essential for maintaining the safety of the plant.  

And there have now been eight occasions when the site lost all off-site power and had to rely on emergency diesel generators, the last line of defence against a nuclear accident, to provide essential cooling of the reactor and spent fuel.

The plant is currently relying on just two lines of external power, and sometimes just one, or for a period the backup power was not properly configured. This demonstrates the highly precarious situation regarding essential off-site power.

There are occasions when the team has not had timely access to some areas of the plant. The IAEA teams need access in order to be able to effectively conduct their assessment of the situation regarding nuclear safety and security at the ZNPP and to reflect on the new developments.

Turning now to the five concrete principles, the Agency has been monitoring observance of these principles, and there have been no indications that the five concrete principles are not being observed. Nevertheless, in line with the evolving situation, the Agency needs to have timely access to all areas of the ZNPP of significance for nuclear safety and security, to monitor that all five concrete principles are being observed at all times.

We also should not forget the other nuclear facilities in Ukraine which are operating, most of the reactor units at full capacity. Although our teams continue to report that nuclear safety and security is maintained, they are also confirming the looming threat of military conflict and at some plants having to take shelter on several occasions. I wish to remind the Council that the availability of off-site power is essential to ensure their safe operation.

Mr. President,

A nuclear accident has not yet happened. This is true. But complacency could still lead us to tragedy. That should not happen. We must do everything in our power to minimize the risk that it does. And I am grateful for the continuing support from Member States - including financial support.

And we must be clear about the nature of the five principles established in this very chamber on 30 May last year. They are not an arms control or armistice agreement. They are not the solution to all the tragic problems this war has brought.

Instead, they are a creative, practical arrangement which has a very defined aim: to save Ukraine, Europe, and the world from a major nuclear accident with significant radiological consequences.

So far, this limited but crucial objective has been achieved. But we should not be complacent – we should take nothing for granted. Utmost restraint is a must, from all sides.

I am asking this Council for continued support for the seven pillars and the five principles, and for the IAEA’s role in monitoring the situation, in the service of the international community.

And I thank the Council, and you Mr President, for inviting me today thereby demonstrating its continuing focus on this critical issue.

The IAEA and myself remain at your disposal for updates, clarifications and action, where so required, to assist this body in its mission to preserve international peace and security.

Thank you, Mr President.

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