IAEA Chief Underlines in Ukraine: "No Room for Complacency"

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: February 6, 2024; 23:04 ♦ (Vindobona)

The IAEA Director General and his team of experts traveled to Kyiv and to the south to visit the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. During the critical visit to Ukraine, Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), met with high-ranking Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Energy Minister German Galushchenko.

The facility in Zaporizhia, which Russia occupied shortly after its invasion of Ukraine, has since suffered repeated shelling, staff shortages and other threats. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons /Ralf1969, CC BY-SA 3.0

Grossi, who also visited the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant occupied by Russian troops, emphasized the tense situation and the need to ensure the safety of the plant, whose six reactors have been shut down for almost eighteen months but still hold large quantities of nuclear fuel.

Around 100 Ukrainian employees at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which is occupied by Russian troops, have refused to sign contracts with the Russian nuclear company Rosatom. The employees now working at the plant are former employees of the Ukrainian Energoatom who have taken on Russian citizenship and signed new contracts with the Russian operator of the plant.

In Kyiv, Grossi expressed concern about recent developments at Zaporizhzhya, in particular the announcement that employees who previously worked for the Ukrainian national operator Energoatom would no longer be allowed to work at the plant. This decision and the reduction in staff numbers from around 12,000 to just 2,000 to 3,000 people raise serious questions about operational safety and adequate cooling of the fuel rods.

The reasons for the staff cuts vary, in addition to reported work bans by Russian authorities. Some employees have also fled, many did not want to stay in the occupied territories, and those who decided to stay did not want to work for Russia. "Some have continued to work, and my Russian colleagues tell me that they are hiring more and more people. So this is something we need to look into," said Grossi.

More than just staff shortages

Grossi's visit to Zaporizhzhya aims to assess the impact of these developments on the safety and operation of the power plant. He also plans to check the stability of the cooling systems following the collapse of the Kakhovka dam and has raised concerns about the presence of mines in and around the plant.

The collapse of the dam also jeopardized access to the cooling water reservoir. To compensate, the administration of the nuclear power plant has dug wells. "Now we want to see how the whole thing has developed," said Grossi. Access to the entire plant for the IAEA experts permanently stationed there is still restricted, as the Russian authorities refuse requests to inspect certain areas. Grossi also confirmed that his team had discovered anti-personnel mines in some areas of the facility, which was "another cause for concern".

However, he added that the mines appear to be placed between the two perimeter fences. "We say that mines in a nuclear power plant are not advisable, but what we see is that the placement and the nature of the mines would not pose an immediate danger to the plant," Grossi said.

The IAEA chief emphasized that "there is absolutely no room for complacency" and described the situation as globally worrying, with far-reaching consequences for international peace and security. Grossi is planning further talks in Moscow to discuss the future of the plant at the highest level and the fundamental implications of current events.

The situation in Zaporizhzhya remains tense and the international community is closely monitoring developments to ensure that the security of the plant and the region remains guaranteed.

Meeting with Zelenskyy

Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, met with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to discuss the security situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and the risks posed by Russian occupation. Zelenskyy emphasized that the only way to prevent a nuclear accident is for Ukraine to demilitarize, de-occupy, and restore control over the plant.

Zelenskyy expressed gratitude for the IAEA's support for the Ukrainian Peace Formula and invited them to participate in the Global Peace Summit in Switzerland. Zelenskyy also emphasized the importance of Ukraine's election to the IAEA Board of Governors until 2025.

On his return from Ukraine, the IAEA chief also intends to travel to the Russian capital Moscow in order to “have a high-level discussion about the future prospectives for the plant”.