The conflict in Ukraine is continuing to endanger nuclear safety and security, with military activity taking place near the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano said in his latest update. He noted that air raid alarms were sounding at several sites, and shelling was knocking out off-site power at a research facility in the north-east.

“For more than two years now, nuclear safety and security in Ukraine has been in constant jeopardy. We remain determined to do everything we can to help minimise the risk of a nuclear accident that could harm people and the environment, not only in Ukraine,” Grossi said. “So far, we have managed to stabilise the situation but, as we have seen again this past week, nuclear safety and security in Ukraine remains extremely vulnerable. We cannot afford to let our guard down at any time.”

At ZNPP the IAEA experts stationed at the site have continued to hear explosions every day at different distances from the plant. Several times, the sounds appeared to come from near the site, presumably from outgoing artillery fire, the experts said. Nearby small arms fire was also heard. In addition, an air raid alarm went off at the site, delaying the IAEA team’s planned visit to the ZNPP’s dry used fuel facility until later in the day.

Despite such challenges, the IAEA team has continued to conduct regular walkdowns across the site, including a visit to the reactor building of unit 5 to observe the water level in the used fuel pool, the operation of used fuel cooling pumps, two steam generators and the safety systems rooms. No leaks of fluid or traces of boric acid were observed. The team also saw operating pumps and other equipment in the turbine hall of unit 4, observed the testing of an emergency diesel generator in the same unit, and visited electrical rooms of the safety systems in units 4&5.

Throughout the recent walkdowns, the IAEA team did not observe any concerns related to nuclear safety. However, the ZNPP has still not provided timely and appropriate access for the IAEA experts to all areas that are important to nuclear safety and security, including some parts of the turbine halls, the isolation gate of the ZNPP cooling pond and the 330 kV open switchyard at the nearby Zaporizhia Thermal Power Plant. The IAEA is aware of social media reports and images related to the presence of troops and vehicles inside one of the turbine halls at the ZNPP. The presence of such vehicles in ZNPP turbine halls has been reported in previous updates by the Director General.

The maintenance activities on parts of the safety system of unit 1 have not yet resumed after ZNPP decided to postpone them again last week. However, other scheduled maintenance work is being performed elsewhere at the ZNPP.

IAEA experts were informed that ZNPP has begun draining one of the sprinkler ponds of unit 5 in order to clean it, which is expected to take around three weeks, after which a sprinkler pond of unit 6 will also be cleaned. The two units are among the five at the ZNPP which are in cold shutdown, while reactor unit 4 is in hot shutdown to generate steam for heating.

In the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, on 22 March, a research and development facility used, up until the start of the war, to produce radioisotopes for medical and industrial applications lost its external power due to shelling, according to the Ukrainian nuclear regulator. The facility now relies on emergency diesel generators. IAEA was informed that all on-site radiation levels remain normal.

The subcritical Neutron Source installation, located in the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology (KIPT), was transferred to a deep sub-critical state at the start of the conflict, and its radioactive inventory is low. In November 2022, an IAEA safeguards and nuclear security expert mission found that the facility had been heavily damaged by shelling, but without any indication of radiological release or diversion of declared nuclear material.

“Due to the nature of this facility, which has been shutdown since the start of the armed conflict, we do not currently anticipate a situation that could have any implications to public safety. But, clearly, leaving a nuclear installation without off-site power is not normal and once again demonstrates the risks from this war to nuclear safety. We will continue to monitor the situation at the facility,” Grossi said.

IAEA experts at the Khmelnitsky, Rivne and South Ukraine NPPs as well as at the Chornobyl site have reported that nuclear safety and security continues to be maintained, despite multiple air raid alarms over the past week.

Image: Zaporizhia nuclear power plant

Date: Wednesday, 03 April 2024
Original article: neimagazine.com/news/newsukraine-conflict-continues-to-endanger-zaporizhia-npp-11651061