New Dilemmas Around Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine

PeopleOther ♦ Published: August 10, 2022; 21:40 ♦ (Vindobona)

The nuclear safety and security situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant is getting more complicated since the shelling of the facility. The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, will brief the United Nations Security Council about the nuclear safety situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant.

Shelling hitting the site is threatening Europe's biggest nuclear power plant. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons /Ralf1969, CC BY-SA 3.0

The meeting will take place tomorrow, a few days after shelling at the Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) sparked widespread alarm about the potential risk of a severe nuclear accident at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which has six reactors.

The ZNPP is currently under Russian occupation and part of an active warzone. Fighting has already increased in the area surrounding the power plant, and the nuclear power plant has also been the scene of and affected by fighting.

IAEA's Director-General Grossi welcomes this opportunity to inform the United Nations Security Council about the "extremely serious situation facing one of the world’s biggest nuclear power plants, now located in the middle of an active war zone." According to Grossi, an "accident at this plant could threaten public health and the environment both in Ukraine and neighboring countries, as well as further away."

Almost half a year ago, the Director General outlined seven indispensable nuclear safety and security principles, which were breached by the shelling on Friday and Saturday, including those relating to the integrity of a nuclear power plant, the safety and security systems it has, the staff and external power sources it has.

Nuclear Security Situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant

The IAEA stated that the shelling at ZNPP last week damaged the plant's external power supply system and disconnected one reactor from the grid. Despite this, the reactors themselves were not damaged, and radiation measurements showed normal levels.

IAEA also received information about Ukraine's restoration of a power line that could be used to provide electricity from a nearby thermal power plant to the ZNPP.

The Ukrainian regulator informed the IAEA that the ZNPP had limited access to off-site power. Director General Grossi hailed this as a positive development.

At the beginning of the conflict, the Director General outlined seven indispensable pillars for nuclear safety and security. One of these is secure off-site power supplies from the grid.

IAEA Mission to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant

An IAEA mission would be important regarding the nuclear safety of Europe's biggest Nuclear Power Plant.

ZNPP, which is occupied by Russia but is still operated by its Ukrainian staff, would undergo safety, security, and safeguarding activities during an IAEA mission. An IAEA mission provides impartial and independent information on the facility's status.

In addition to Ukraine's and Russia's cooperation, understanding, and facilitation, Director General Grossi has reiterated the UN's and Secretary General Guterres' continued support for the mission.

Russians and Ukrainians fighting over Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant

The embattled nuclear power plant has become an international issue. ZNPP, which is occupied by Russia but is still operated by its Ukrainian staff, is affected by the fighting between the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces.

It is unclear who fired on the power plant. At the moment, both warring parties are tossing the blame back and forth. The Russian ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted about it.

According to ORF, Russia wants to allow a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the recently shelled Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which is occupied by its troops.

Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine's Energoatom energy agency, Petro Kotin, warned of very high risks from impacts at the nuclear power plant site. Last week, Russian troops damaged three lines connecting the power plant to Ukraine's electricity grid, he told Reuters. Some of the shelling hit near spent fuel storage facilities, he said. There are 174 casks with highly radioactive material in the area, he said. Russia and Ukraine blame each other.

Other threats are also made when it comes to the future of the nuclear power plant. According to ORF, Ukraine has threatened to cut power lines in case the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant (NPP) is connected to the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia.

According to Petro Kotin, Russia has long wanted to connect the NPP to Crimea. According to ORF, Kotin also said that Ukrainian troops would shell the power lines if Russia connected the NPP to its grid. If the power plant were to fail, the power supply to the entire Russian-occupied south would be at risk.

According to Reuters, Petro Kotin called suggested for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to be made a military-free zone, warning of the risk of a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster after the site was hit by shelling.

For Kotin, the presence of peacekeepers in this zone and the transfer of control to them would be the best solution to the dilemma surrounding Europe's largest nuclear power plant. In addition, he said, "the control of the station to the Ukrainian side would solve this problem."

The situation around Europe's largest nuclear power plant is tense, even to the point of being discussed by the United Nations Security Council.

International Atomic Energy Agency