Ukraine: Renewed shelling at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant underlines accident risk

28 August 2022Peace and Security

Recent fighting near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in Ukraine has again highlighted the potential risk of a disaster, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned on Sunday.

Rafael Mariano Grossi said Ukrainian authorities had informed the nuclear watchdog of renewed shelling at the site over the past three days, but they stated that all safety systems remained operational and there had been no increase in radiation levels.

#Ukraine has informed the IAEA of renewed shelling in recent days at the site of #Zaporizhzhya NPP but that all safety systems remain operational and radioactivity is within normal range. https://t.co/YdJxbKvxpC pic.twitter.com/qGzApHbkqo

— IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency (@iaeaorg) August 28, 2022

“The latest shelling once again underlined the risk of a potential nuclear accident at the ZNPP, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (NPP), which is controlled by Russian forces since early March but operated by its Ukrainian staff,” he said in a statement.

Incomplete information

Mr. Grossi reported that Ukraine did not yet have complete information on the nature of the damage from the shelling, which occurred on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The Zaporizhzhia plant has six nuclear reactors. It normally has four external power lines but three were lost earlier in the conflict, now in its seventh month.

The shelling had hit the area of the plant’s two so-called special buildings, located about 100 metres from the reactor buildings, as well as one overpass area.

The buildings house facilities including water treatment plants, equipment repair shops or waste management facilities. Some water pipelines at the site also were damaged, but they had been repaired.

Radioactivity in normal range

All measurements of radioactivity at the site were within normal range, and there was no indication of any hydrogen leakage, said Mr. Grossi, citing information from Ukraine.

The nuclear plant has continued access to off-site electricity after temporarily losing connection to its last remaining operational 750 kilovolt external power line on Thursday.

Connection was restored that afternoon following two power cuts and the disconnection of the plant’s two operating reactors from the national electricity grid.

Both reactor units were re-connected on Friday and are again operating. The other four units were disconnected before Thursday and remained in shutdown.

Mission efforts continue

Meanwhile, Mr. Grossi said he continues consultations with all parties in efforts to deploy an IAEA expert mission to the plant to help ensure nuclear safety and security there.

The mission would assess the physical damage to the facilities, determine whether the main and back-up safety and security systems were functional, evaluate the working conditions of the staff, and perform urgent safeguard activities on the site.

Secretary-General’s concern

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also called for a mission to be deployed “as soon as possible”.

Last week, the UN chief told the Security Council that he remains “gravely concerned” about the situation in and around the nuclear plant.

“The warning lights are flashing,” he said in a briefing on Wednesday, which marked the sixth month of the "senseless war" in Ukraine, as well as the country’s 31st anniversary of independence.

“Any actions that might endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the nuclear plant are simply unacceptable. Any further escalation of the situation could lead to self-destruction.”

Mr. Guterres said the UN has the logistics and security capacity in Ukraine to support any IAEA mission, provided both Russia and Ukraine agree.

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