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.