VIENNA, Austria, September 7, 2022 (ENS) – The establishment of a Nuclear Safety and Security Protection Zone at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, NPP, in Ukraine is urgently needed to ensure that the physical integrity of the plant is not compromised, International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Director General Rafael Grossi told the UN Security Council Tuesday, speaking by video link to the meeting in New York from the IAEA headquarters in Vienna.
Zaporizhzya NPP has been controlled by Russian forces since March but is operated by its Ukrainian staff.
Grossi said the “physical integrity” of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine had been “violated,” and warned those responsible for the recent shelling on the facility “are playing with fire, and something very, very catastrophic could take place.”
He recommended that the operator should be allowed to return to its clear and routine lines of responsibilities and authorities, and that an appropriate work environment be re-established, including proper family support for the staff.
His comments came as he outlined his agency’s inspection report of the nuclear facility before the UN Security Council.
He stressed the urgency of the power plant returning to civilian control and all Russian military personnel and equipment leaving the facility immediately.
Grossi said there was evidence the external power supply line to the nuclear facility had been cut off, which could result “in a very serious nuclear accident.”
In the Security Council session Tuesday discussing threats to international peace and security, Grossi outlined findings and recommendations from the IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya, ISAMZ, released that day in its “Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards in Ukraine: 2nd Summary Report.”
“We can agree on a very simple, but incredibly necessary protective mechanism to avoid what is happening now, which is the shelling of a nuclear power plant. Let’s seize this opportunity so fundamental for peace, for security and to protect the populations of Ukraine and beyond,” he said.
Grossi told the Security Council that the IAEA, through ISAMZ, now has a continuous presence at Zaporizhzya NPP, with personnel on the ground at the plant providing first-hand neutral, impartial and technical information on the site’s status.
Stressing the need for a protection zone, including an end to the shelling around the plant, Grossi explained that the first important safety pillar that exists in any nuclear facility is not to violate its physical integrity. “This has happened and this continues to happen,” he said, warning of future catastrophe.
Pointing out the value of the agency’s continued presence at the plant, he said this provided the IAEA, and through it, the United Nations and the international community, with the capacity to have a direct, immediate evaluation of the situation on the ground.
“This fact is unprecedented,” Grossi said, stating that historically IAEA inspectors became involved after the facts in order to remediate something that had already happened. “We in this case have the historical, ethical imperative to prevent something from happening,” he said.
“We can agree on a very simple, but incredibly necessary protective mechanism to avoid what is happening now, as we speak, which is the shelling of a nuclear power plant. Let’s seize this opportunity so fundamental for peace, for security and to protect the populations of Ukraine and beyond,” he said.
UN Chief Calls for ‘Common Sense and Cooperation’
“Any damage, whether intentional or not, to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia – or to any other nuclear facility in Ukraine – could spell catastrophe, not only for the immediate vicinity, but for the region and beyond. All steps must be taken to avoid such a scenario,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres said.
Common sense and cooperation must guide the way forward. Any action that might endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the nuclear plant is unacceptable. All efforts to re-establish the plant as purely civilian infrastructure are vital.
As a first step, Russian and Ukrainian forces must commit not to engage in any military activity towards the plant site or from the plant site. The Zaporizhzhia facility and its surroundings must not be a target or a platform for military operations.
As a second step, an agreement on a demilitarized perimeter should be secured. Specifically, that would include a commitment by Russian forces to withdraw all military personnel and equipment from that perimeter and a commitment by Ukrainian forces not to move into it.
Operators at the plant must be able to carry out their responsibilities, and communications must be maintained. Now is the time to urgently agree on concrete measures to ensure the safety of the area.
Re-establishing the Seven Pillars of Nuclear Safety
Grossi stressed to the UN Security Council that the seven indispensable pillars for ensuring nuclear safety and security at Zaporizhzhya NPP must be maintained, and he detailed the IAEA’s recommendations to address violations of these pillars.
Grossi explained how ISAMZ had observed that operators at the plant were performing important safety and security tasks under extremely challenging circumstances, with military equipment and vehicles present on the site.
With the second pillar stating that all safety and security systems and equipment should be fully functional, he recommended that the military vehicles and equipment on the site be removed so as not to interfere with normal operation of the nuclear safety and security systems.
Under the third pillar, which requires operating staff to be able to fulfill their safety and security duties without undue pressures, Grossi said that this is something that has been addressed time and again during this crisis and especially since the nuclear power plant was occupied last March.
Grossi stressed the crucial importance of pillar four, which states that there must be secure off-site power supply from the grid. “A nuclear power plant without external power supply may lose crucial functionalities including the cooling of the reactors and the spent fuel. Without this we could have a very serious nuclear accident,” he said.
He recommended that off-site power supply line redundancy be re-established and available at any time, and said that for this to be possible, “All military activities that may affect the power supply systems must be stopped immediately.”
Referring to the fifth pillar, which requires uninterrupted logistical supply chains and transportation to and from the sites, Grossi explained that the Zaporizhzhya NPP is “a large industrial site requiring a constant flow of spare parts and other equipment – a situation that is of course abnormally interrupted now.”
He recommended that all the parties should commit and contribute to ensuring effective supply chains, highlighting that IAEA assistance and support programs can help in re-establishing a flow of supplies.
Pillar six refers to the functioning of radiation monitoring systems, and Grossi recommended that the site should continue this functionality, including by trainings and exercises, which he said the IAEA can help in ensuring.
Finally, Grossi focused on pillar seven, which states that there must be continued and reliable communications with the regulator and with others. “We have seen repeatedly that these lines of communication have been interrupted,” he said. He recommended that reliable and redundant communication means and channels be secured at all times.
Secretary-General Guterres said, “As a first step, Russian and Ukrainian forces must commit not to engage in any military activity towards the plant site or from the plant site. The Zaporizhzhia facility and its surroundings must not be a target or a platform for military operations.”
The second step would be to secure an agreement on a demilitarized perimeter.
“Specifically, that would include a commitment by Russian forces to withdraw all military personnel and equipment from that perimeter and a commitment by Ukrainian forces not to move into it. Operators at the plant must be able to carry out their responsibilities, and communications must be maintained,” demanded Guterres.
Grossi thanked Secretary General Guterres for his support of the ISAMZ mission to help stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.
Featured image: International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi, second left, and the IAEA expert mission team arrive at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. August 29, 2022 (Photo courtesy IAEA)