Update 20 – IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine

Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today that Ukrainian specialist teams had succeeded in repairing a power line needed to resume external electricity supplies to the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), four days after they were completely lost at the Russian-controlled site, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said.

The Director General received the news from the head of Ukraine’s nuclear power company Energoatom, Petro Kotin, who told him that the specialists had fixed one of two damaged lines and would now be able to deliver all required off-site power to the NPP, where various radioactive waste management facilities are located following the 1986 accident.

Ukraine’s regulator separately informed the IAEA that the power supply line was restored at 18:38 CET by the repair personnel of Ukrenergo, the country’s transmission system operator. The Chornobyl NPP continues to work on back-up diesel generators and will be reconnected to the Ukrainian electricity grid in the morning, it said.

As previously reported, the NPP’s disconnection from the grid last week did not have a critical impact on essential safety functions at the site as the volume of cooling water in its spent fuel facility was sufficient to maintain heat removal without a supply of electricity.

“This is a positive development as the Chornobyl NPP has had to rely on emergency diesel generators for several days now,” Director General Grossi said. “However, I remain gravely concerned about safety and security at Chornobyl and Ukraine’s other nuclear facilities.”

Earlier today, the Ukrainian regulator informed the IAEA that staff at the Chornobyl NPP were no longer carrying out repair and maintenance of safety-related equipment, in part due to their physical and psychological fatigue after working non-stop for nearly three weeks.

The staff of 211 technical personnel and guards have still not been able to rotate from the facility since the day before Russian forces entered the site on 24 February, the regulatory authority said, also voicing security concerns about transporting staff outside the Exclusion Zone set up after the accident. The regulator has no direct communication with the staff but receives information from off-site NPP management.

Director General Grossi said the increasingly dire situation facing personnel at the facility – coupled with persistent issues related to communication from the site as well as the now resolved power supply problem – added further urgency to an IAEA initiative aimed at ensuring safety and security at Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.

The Director General has proposed a framework that would enable the IAEA to deliver technical and other assistance for the safe and secure operation of all of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, which he discussed last week with the Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministers Dmytro Kuleba and Sergei Lavrov, respectively.

“We can’t afford to lose more time. The IAEA stands ready to act immediately, based on our proposed framework that requires agreement from the parties of the conflict before it can be implemented. We can only provide assistance to Ukraine’s nuclear sites once it has been signed. I’m doing everything I can to make this happen very soon,” he said.

The IAEA is preparing detailed technical proposals for its assistance, based on the seven indispensable pillars for nuclear safety that the Director General earlier this month outlined at a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Those pillars – including the ones on the physical integrity of nuclear facilities, operating staff being able to make decisions free of undue pressure, secure off-site power supplies, and reliable communications with the regulator – have been compromised or challenged during the conflict that began on 24 February.

Ukraine’s regulatory authority also informed the IAEA today that it was closely monitoring the situation in the Chornobyl NPP Exclusion Zone ahead of the annual “fire season” when spontaneous fires often occur in the area, still contaminated by radioactive material from the accident 36 years ago next month.

Regarding the Zaporizhzhya NPP, controlled by Russian forces since 4 March, the regulator said the power supply situation had not changed. It has four high voltage (750 kV) offsite power lines plus an additional one on standby. Two of the four have been damaged. The operator has informed the IAEA that the NPP off-site power needs could be provided with one power line available. Diesel generators were also ready to provide back-up power.

Ukraine has previously informed the IAEA that regular staff have continued to operate the Zaporizhzhya NPP and carry out their day-to-day work, but that its management is under the control of the commander of the Russian forces there. In today’s update, the regulator said it had been informed by personnel at the site that at least 11 representatives of the Russian state company Rosatom were also present there, without interfering with the operation of the nuclear facilities. Director General Grossi has repeatedly emphasized that the current situation contravenes one of the seven indispensable pillars, that operating staff “must be able to fulfil their safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure”.

The regulator also told the IAEA that it could no longer provide independent on-site regulatory safety oversight of the Zaporizhzhya NPP, in part because its working premises there had been damaged on 4 March. But it remained in constant contact with the site, an important element of the seven safety pillars.

On the status of Ukraine’s operational nuclear power plants, the regulator said eight of the country’s 15 reactors remained operating, including two at the Zaporizhzhya NPP, three at Rivne, one at Khmelnytskyy, and two at South Ukraine. Radiation levels remain normal and safety systems were intact, it added.

In relation to safeguards, the Agency said it was still not receiving remote data transmission from its monitoring systems installed at the Chornobyl NPP, but that such data was being transferred to IAEA headquarters from the other NPPs in Ukraine.

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