IAEA demands Russian exit from Zaporizhzhia

September 16, 2022, 9:29AMNuclear News
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors has adopted a resolution calling for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. According to a report from Reuters, the 35-member board voted 26–2 yesterday in favor of the resolution, with seven abstentions. The two “no” votes were cast, unsurprisingly, by Russia and China, while abstentions came from Burundi, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Senegal, South Africa, and Vietnam.

While still operated by its Ukrainian staff, Zaporizhzhia has been under the control of the Russian military since March 4, just days after Russia commenced its invasion. It is Europe’s largest nuclear facility, housing six 950-MWe pressurized water reactors.

As reported here last week, the sole remaining external power line connecting Zaporizhzhia to Ukraine’s electricity grid was severed on September 5 due to a fire caused by shelling near the site. In response, staff began supplying power for crucial safety and cooling systems from the plant’s one operational unit, which began running in “island mode.” On September 10, following repairs to one of the power lines, Zaporizhzhia was reconnected to the grid, allowing the operating unit to enter cold shutdown the next day as a safety measure. By midweek, the IAEA was reporting that all three backup power lines to Zaporizhzhia had been restored.

Blunt board: In language more pointed than is typical for the IAEA, the resolution “deplores the Russian Federation’s persistent violent actions against nuclear facilities in Ukraine, including forcefully seizing control of nuclear facilities and other violent actions in connection with a number of nuclear facilities and other radioactive materials and the ongoing presence of Russian forces and Rosatom personnel at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.” These actions, the document asserts, “continue to pose serious and direct threats to the safety and security of these facilities and their civilian personnel, thereby significantly raising the risk of a nuclear accident or incident, which endangers the population of Ukraine, neighboring states, and the international community.”

In addition, the resolution insists that Russia “immediately cease all actions against, and at, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and any other nuclear facility in Ukraine, in order for the competent Ukrainian authorities to regain full control over all nuclear facilities . . . to ensure their safe and secure operation, and in order for the [IAEA] to fully and safely conduct its safeguards verification activities.”

Our take: The American Nuclear Society issued a statement yesterday afternoon, applauding the IAEA board’s action. ANS President Steven Arndt and Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy noted that “a civilian nuclear power plant must not be treated as a military base or military target in any armed conflict,” adding that the resolution “aligns with the IAEA’s calls for safety and security zones around Ukraine’s nuclear facilities to safeguard plant operations and the well-being of nuclear workers.”

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