Following a day’s delay, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi final reached the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) on 15 June, accompanying the eighth rotation of the Support & Assistance Mission to Zaporizhia (ISAMZ) which has been permanently stationed at the plant since September 2022. Grossi has strengthened the mission replacing two inspectors with four – specialists from Austria, France, South Korea, and Morocco.
It was his third visit to the plant, where he spent several hours inspecting the facilities, talking with the plant management and addressing a press conference. In a message on Twitter, speaking from the contact point between Ukrainian and Russian forces after leaving the plant, he said: “We believe we have gathered a good amount of information for an assessment of the situation and we will continue permanently monitoring the situation there in order to help prevent a nuclear accident.”
Since Russia took control of ZNPP in March 2022 as part of its special military operation in Ukraine, the Russian national guard has been protecting the station and in October, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree formally transferring ZNPP to Russian jurisdiction under nuclear utility Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom). A Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise. Zaporizhia NPP was established by Rosenergoatom to operate the plant. However, Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom still claims ownership of the plant. IAEA has had experts permanent stationed at the plant – the Support & Assistance Mission to Zaporizhia (ISAMZ).
Reports by Russian military analysts suggest that retaking control of ZNPP is one of the objectives of the coming Ukrainian counter-offensive. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling that has repeatedly downed power lines vital to cooling the reactors, which are shut down but which need a constant supply of electricity to keep the nuclear fuel inside cool and prevent a possible meltdown. Russia and Ukraine have also accused each other of destroying the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dniepr River, which has depleted water levels in the nearby reservoir, putting at risk cooling water for the six ZNPP reactors.
Above: The depleted water levels at the reservoir which feeds the cooling pond adjacent to Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (courtesy of IAEA)
In two video statements, following his examination of plant facilities, Grossi showed both the reservoir, where water levels were steadily decreasing, and also the plant’s large cooling pond adjacent to the reservoir, which for the moment remains full. He said it is important that the cooling pond stays at that level. “Obviously this is not going to last too long – a few months maybe – and the plant will be working on replenishing and getting more water there through alternative means, which we are studying with them.”
Above: The cooling pond adjacent to Zaporizhia nuclear power plant which, at the moment, remains full (courtesy of IAEA)
He told a press conference before leaving the plant that measures had been taken to stabilise the situation and that the work was ongoing. He said he had seen the conditions of the cooling pond including the retention gate, the channels and inlets. “It was very important to be able to have my own assessment of the situation,” he noted. While there was sufficient water at the moment, the plant management would decide if any further measures were needed.
“I have learned a lot. I needed to see with my own eyes what the situation is,” he said, “There was some contradictory information and views regarding the level of the water and what was being done. So I have spoken with the management here and they explained to me what they planned to do. It seems sensible, so we are going to be continuing.” However, there are many inter-connected factors that affect each other and cannot be separated, he explained. “For example, as part of my visit, on top of inspecting and looking at the water systems, I was able to visit the thermal power plant’s open switchyard, which has also been affected by the military activity.”
Grossi was asked about plans to restart power production from the ZNPP reactors, which are currently shut down. He replied: “This is of course a question for the management. What I would say is that in the current circumstances, with ongoing hostilities, in particular at this point when there is tall of a counter-offensive and more military action, my impression is there are no plans to start a full power regime again. But I hope this will happen at some time, and it is something we will be discussing.”
He was also asked to comment on the five basic principles he had presented to the UN Security Council to ensure the safety of the plant. “We are not talking about a treaty or convention or a legal agreement,” he said. “What we have here is five basic principles – don’t attack the plant, don’t attack from the plant, don’t turn the plant into a military base, don’t cut the external power supply to the plant etc. What we have is a political commitment that was crystallised at the Security Council.”
He added: “Having a legal agreement would be unrealistic at this point because there are no ceasefire agreements between the sides. What we managed to achieve is a solid political agreement. He stressed the importance of the Security Council meeting “because all the members had their sights set on this place – 15 members of the Security Council. This is exactly what I wanted to make the international community aware of the dangers of a major nuclear accident….No-one opposed this. On the contrary there was widespread support for what I proposed – five basic principles to avoid a nuclear accident.”
Grossi emphasised the role of the IAEA. “ There is also a very important thing, which is the presence of the IAEA here. The permanent mission of the IAEA here is going to be monitoring this and informing the international community about developments. Of course we are not a military force or international police but we have the power of the pen. We write. We tell the world what is happening.”
Grossi admitted that his trip to ZNPP had been “extremely difficult” in terms of planning the mission and obtaining the necessary permits. “Until a few hours ago I was not sure I would be able to come here and visit the plant. Of course this is the result of the tensions in the area. But the IAEA is not going anywhere. The IAEA will stay here and I will be returning here hopefully very soon.”
Above: IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi addresses a press conference after his inspection of Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (courtesy of IAEA)
Reporting on the visit, Ria Novosti said: “Grossi had been shown the [damaged] tanks, and the consequences of new attacks from Ukraine were clearly demonstrated. The pipe through which water is just supplied to the cooling system is damaged by fragments of NATO shells. They also showed recently found fragments of ammunition from the M-777 howitzer, which the West supplies to Kiev. The NPP employees even presented one fragment to Rafael Grossi today. Whether he will comment on this in any way when he returns to Europe is an open question.”
Meanwhile, Rosatom Director Alexey Likhachev, commented "What is our main task in this visit of Grossi – to show that de facto Russia fulfils the five postulates that he proclaimed from the UN [Security Council] rostrum. They seem to be simple – do not shoot at the station, protect the infrastructure, do not put pressure on people - but they are the essence of security and for us this is canon. We will comply.”Units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reportedly attacked Grossi’s convoy as it returned to Ukrainian-held territory, Renat Karchaa. Adviser to the General Director of Rosenergoatom told Tass. "As soon as the IAEA mission with Grossi arrived at the border, it began. There was not just shelling, there was a battle. Ukraine has once again demonstrated its complete irresponsibility,” he said. Karchaa added that Ukraine had guaranteed a regime of [military] silence in the Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhia region until 18:00 Moscow time, but the battle began before that time.