After leading the 14-member Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzia (ISAMZ), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi summarised the situation at the NPP sayng that the physical integrity of the plant had been violated.

Speaking at the airport immediately upon his return and using an infographic representing seven indispensable nuclear safety and security pillars he had identified earlier, he assigned each a colour – red, yellow or green – to signify its status, saying it was based on “a very thorough technical analysis”. The first pillar, the physical integrity of the plant, was assigned what Grossi called “a big red” because of ongoing military activity and clear evidence of shelling. The physical integrity of the plant has been violated not once but several times,” he said, adding that it was totally unacceptable.

The second pillar, which concerns the functioning of safety and security systems, was designated yellow. “most of them are working relatively well,” he noted but there is still damage in some places. Pillar three, operating conditions for staff, was designated both red and yellow. He said it was one of the main points of concern and represented a unique and unprecedented situation. He described it as “cohabitation” between Ukrainian staff and Russian occupiers including Russian nuclear experts and military personnel. He said it is not fully red because the plant continues to operate and there is a professional modus vivendi.

Pillar four refers to offsite power supply, which is also coded red and yellow and “is also a matter of enormous concern”. He noted that without a power supply the cooling systems for the reactors cannot work, which can lead to a major accident. There have been blackouts and interruptions to power supply due to damage to the power lines feeding the plant. However, he added that during the one total blackout at the plant backup diesel generators had worked normally.

Pillar five – logistical aspects and supply chain – was designated yellow and green, with Grossi noting that there have been some interruptions to supplies or spare parts. The sixth pillar – radiation monitoring and emergency response is coded green and red because there have been some interruptions but most systems are working well – “a mixed bag”. Finally, pillar seven, which is reliable communications with the regulator, is coded yellow indicating that it is operating but with ”some difficulties”. Grossi summed up by saying the situation was extremely complex and extremely challenging.

In answer to questions, he said it was clear that military activity was increasing and that it worried him “a lot”. He noted the main danger was to interruptions of power supply rather than direct damage to the reactors, which are very robust. “It is clear that those who have these military aims know very well that the way to…do more damage…is to hit where it hurts so the plant becomes very problematic, he commented.” Asked about the staff at the plant Grossi said he needed to be very ”prudent” in his answer. He noted that there is a professional relationship between the experts. “They are all nuclear experts. They all know what they are doing and what they are talking about. But they are human beings. And they have sides in a war which is affecting them and their families.” He added that it was viable for the Ukrainian experts to go on working there but that there was “a latent tension”. However, in this respect, the IAEA presence there “has a very big added value”.

Grossi explained that six of his team members were remaining at the Zaporizhzia NPP (ZNPP) for a few days, two of whom would stay there permanently. Russia took control of the six-reactor plant in early March but it continues to be operated by Ukrainian staff and has come under repeated shelling. The visit to the plant had presented a number of logistical and security problems as Ukraine had insisted that the team travel there via Kyiv, which entailed passing through the frontline.

Grossi said the remaining ISAMZ experts will carry out detailed and continuous work to assess the physical damage to the plant’s facilities, determine the functionality of the main and back-up safety and security systems and evaluate the staff’s working conditions, in addition to performing urgent safeguards activities on the site. “The difference between having the IAEA at the site and not having us there is like day and night. I remain gravely concerned about the situation,” he said, adding that the continued IAEA presence “will be of paramount importance in helping to stabilise the situation”.

Russia's Permanent Representative to International organisations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said Russia welcomed a permanent IAEA presence at the plant. UN Security Service personnel, who had accompanied the team to ZNPP, will continue to support the IAEA mission there until its completion. Russian nuclear utility (Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom) told reporters on 2 September that the six IAEA employees who remained at the plant were from Spain, Jordan, Albania, Lithuania, and Romania, but could not say which two would stay there permanently.

Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom said on its Telegram page on 2 September that Russia was “making every effort to prevent the IAEA mission from getting to know the real state of affairs at Zaporizhzia NPP. They are spreading manipulative and false information about this visit.”

However, Grossi emphatically denied that the team were not shown everything. “We have seen what I requested to see. I want to emphasise this because I think it is very important. … When we go somewhere we do what we need to do, and if we are prevented we just come back and say we were not able to do it.” He said the IAEA presence has a stabilising effect on the situation. “For those who have intentions towards the plant, knowing that inspectors are there, witnessing and informing immediately what is happening has, I think, an inherently, very important stabilising effect. The Director General will, within a few days, issue a report to the IAEA Board of Governors about the safety, security and safeguards situation in Ukraine including the findings from his mission to the ZNPP.

While shelling of ZNPP had briefly ceased on 1 September after inspectors arrived there accompanied by a large international press corp, artillery attacks on the plant and nearby operators’ town of Energodar resumed the next day.

In the Agency’s first report about the situation since the visit of the inspectors, it noted that the plant on 3 September had once again lost the connection to its last remaining main external power line, but noted that the facility was continuing to supply electricity to the grid through a reserve line. The Agency’s experts were told by senior Ukrainian staff that the ZNPP’s fourth operational 750 Kilovolt (kV) power line was down due to renewed shelling. The three others were lost earlier during the conflict. However, the IAEA experts present at the plant learnt that the 330/750 kV reserve line linking the facility to a nearby thermal power plant was delivering the electricity the ZNPP generates to the external grid. The same reserve line can also provide back-up power to the ZNPP if needed.

Unit 5 was disconnected due to grid restrictions, IAEA said, but one reactor was still operating and producing electricity both for cooling and other essential safety functions at the site and for households, factories and others through the grid. “Our team on the ground received direct, fast and reliable information about the latest significant development affecting the plant’s external power situation, as well as the operational status of the reactors,” said Grossi. “The great value of finally having the IAEA permanently present at the Zaporizhzia Nuclear Power Plant is already abundantly clear. It is a game changer.”

The damage to the power line was widely reported in the Russian press. Vladimir Rogov, a member of the main (pro Russian) Council of the Zaporozhye region administration, said the Dnipro power line was destroyed. Kommersant and other Russian press reported that, due to the technical malfunctions, the supply of electricity to the territories controlled by Ukraine has been suspended (the plant normally supplies power to both Russian and Ukrainian controlled areas.

In addition, despite the presence of IAEA inspectors, two major direct attacks on ZNPP by Ukrainian forces on 2 and 3 September were reported by Russia’s Defence Ministry. This followed a similar attack on 1 September, which had delayed the arrival of the IAEA team to ZNPP. The Ministry said that on 2 September, at about 23 hours Moscow time, “two groups of boats and motorboats totalling 42 units with a landing force of over 250 people from the special operations forces and foreign mercenaries attempted to land on the coast of the Kakhovsky reservoir in the area of Energodar and Dneproprudny.” The Ministry added that Russian aircraft and helicopters had destroyed 20 of the boats. “The rest of the boats turned around and left in the direction of the Ukrainian coast,” where they were attacked by Russian artillery.

The Ministry also reported that, on 3 September, “the Armed Forces of Ukraine had used eight unmanned aerial vehicles with suspended ammunition to launch attacks on ZNPP….Russian electronic warfare equipment blocked Ukrainian drones approaching the station, after which they forcibly dropped grenades in deserted places at a distance of more than one and a half kilometres from the station's security perimeter.”

The Russian Ministry of Defence has also provided more details of the first attack on ZNPP, which took place on 1 September noting that two Ukrainian sabotage groups totalling 60 people had landed on seven high-speed motor boats on the coast of the Kakhovsky reservoir, three kilometres north-east of ZNPP in the early morning. They were detected and apprehended by the Rosgvardiya units guarding the territory of the ZNPP. Another landing attempt to capture the plant was foiled an hour later when an attempt was made to land tactical troops on two self-propelled barges. After this massive shelling delayed the IAEA team which was on its way to ZNPP. The Ministry said, adding ”The position of R Grossi and his team, who nevertheless went to the station, despite the provocations … and the shelling … deserves respect.”

In a further statement on 4 September, the Ministry said that cars with specially selected Ukrainian and Western journalists had been added the IAEA motorcade by Ukraine as it made its way towards ZNPP. These had been intended to inform the international community in the presence of the IAEA mission about the transfer of the plant to Ukrainian control had the attacks on the plant been successful, the Ministry said.

Ukraine’s Energoatom alleged that most “global media” representatives who went the ZNPP were “Russian propagandists” and that buses with Ukrainian and foreign journalists attempting to access the plant together with the IAEA mission from the territory of Ukraine were not allowed through the Russian checkpoint.

However, the Russian Defence Ministry said that “in accordance with the detailed and agreed documents, access to the territory of the Zaporozhye region controlled by Russia was to be carried out strictly on the basis of lists previously submitted to the Russian Defence Ministry by the UN Department of Safety and Security”. These included “no representatives of Ukrainian or other mass media from Ukrainian territory. “In order to comply with the mission's security protocol, all unauthorised persons were stopped and not allowed to cross the contact line as part of the IAEA motorcade,” the Ministry noted.

However, “at the same time, at the request of the IAEA Secretariat, more than 60 media representatives, including from France, the United States, China, Denmark, Japan, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries, were invited by the Russian side to cover the work of the mission at Zaporizhia NPP.”

After the Russian Defence Ministry said on 1 September that it was “bewildered” at the lack of UN reaction to the Ukrainian attempt to seize ZNPP by force, Stephane Dujarric told reporters at a briefing in New York, when asked about Moscow’s comments: “We are glad that the Russian Federation did what it needed to do to keep our inspectors safe.” He added: “As with any UN mission, it is the responsibility of those who control a certain area to keep the UN staff safe.” He further thanked the “security people” and “drivers” for the “tremendous job” of getting the IAEA team safely in and out of ZNPP.

Date: Tuesday, 06 September 2022
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