IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi traveled to Antalya, Turkey, on March 10 to meet with Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the safety and security of Ukraine's nuclear facilities. After returning to Vienna, Grossi held a press conference at which he said that a “common denominator” had emerged from the discussions and that both sides agree that something needs to be done. “They are both ready to work and to engage with the IAEA,” he said. “So this is a very important building block.”
Grossi had repeatedly sought a trilateral meeting with representatives of the two countries at the Chernobyl site, but his proposal was rejected by both the Ukrainian and Russian representatives. Instead, Grossi held separate bilateral meetings with Kuleba and Lavrov in Turkey. He tweeted an image of his meeting with Lavrov as talks were underway.
Constructive and important meeting with @mfa_russia's Sergei Lavrov in Antalya, #Turkey this afternoon. We are making progress on the safety and security of nuclear facilities in #Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/baT9BlSpyD— Rafael MarianoGrossi (@rafaelmgrossi) March 10, 2022
Intensive day: Grossi described an “intensive day” of “good meetings—not easy ones, but serious meetings talking into the substance of the issues.”
“Whilst one can agree on the importance of nuclear safety and security, then you have to distill it . . . into concrete things,” Grossi said. “So my first goal was to establish a direct dialogue at the very high level. That is very important to pass the key messages of the action and what is being proposed, and this was achieved.
“We are going to be presenting quite detailed ideas in the next few hours to both sides after this more general conversation has taken place . . . and then we'll take it from there. I hope that I'll be able to work on a on a series of different aspects ranging from the technical advice on a number of things, moving on to the facilitation . . . of the supply chain that all these facilities require, which is now interrupted, up to the possible presence of our experts there.” Once those ideas have been presented to both sides, “there is a high probability of a meeting very soon,” Grossi added.
A worsening situation: After Russian troops seized control of the Chernobyl plant on February 24 and the Zaporizhzhia plant on March 4, communication with plant staff became increasingly difficult and was worsened at Chernobyl after the site lost power on March 9. The IAEA reported in its March 10 update on the situation that Ukrainian regulators have lost all communication with Chernobyl but that “the disconnection from the grid will not have a critical impact on essential safety functions at the site.”
At the press conference, Grossi said that he could not confirm reports from Russia’s energy ministry that electricity had been restored to Chernobyl by Belarusian technicians. Grossi has repeatedly spoken out about the urgent need to ensure nuclear safety and security and the well-being of plant staff. The invasion has been taking a well-documented toll on Ukrainian nuclear workers.
“There is an issue of communications,” Grossi said. “The systems are based on a scheme which was designed, of course, for a normal moment, where antennas function, when power is functioning. . . . And of course, this is compromised at the moment. So what we have is actually a degrading situation, which is a concerning situation for us. . . . It doesn't mean that we are losing everything, but we are losing a significant amount of information.”
An issue of nonproliferation: Grossi displayed an image of the IAEA’s Web-based safeguards monitoring dashboard for Ukraine. “In each of these lines you have the display of the flow of information we get from different remote monitoring . . . cameras and systems for different facilities in Ukraine. As you can, of course, deduce, green is green and red is no information, and you can see that . . . in safeguards terms, it's not a good situation because we are losing information.” Grossi confirmed during the press conference that safeguards communications for Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia had not been restored.
In response to a question from a reporter, Grossi explained that, while safety and security “has to do with preventing a nuclear accident . . . in terms of safeguards, the issue here is an issue of nonproliferation—an issue of security in the sense of peace and security . . . and there is a lot of nuclear material in Ukraine with 15 reactors.”
A dire situation: When asked by a reporter if he was less optimistic after the day’s meetings, Grossi said, “I'm very conscious of the difficulties ahead.” He said it was encouraging that Ukraine and the Russian Federation want to work with the IAEA. “They agree to work with us, and they are prepared to work with us,” he said. “Perhaps the gravity of my tone has to do with the gravity of the situation, because it's a very dire situation and we need to move fast, and I am aware of the responsibility we have and the expectations that there are.”