Mines spotted at Zaporizhzhia site periphery

July 25, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear News

During a walkdown at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on July 23, a team of International Atomic Energy Agency experts reported seeing “some” directional antipersonnel mines in a buffer zone between the Russian-occupied site’s internal and external perimeter barriers, the agency announced yesterday.

The mines were spotted in a restricted area that operating plant personnel cannot access and were facing away from the facility, the IAEA said, adding that its team did not see any of the explosive devices within the inner-site perimeter during the walkdown.

During the last few weeks, IAEA experts at Zaporizhzhia have been inspecting various areas of the plant in response to Ukrainian claims that Russia may have planted explosives. They have requested access to the rooftops and turbine halls of the plant’s reactors—in particular Units 3 and 4. (On July 4, citing “operational data,” the Ukrainian military alleged that explosives had been placed on top of those units.)

Yesterday, experts were allowed to visit the Unit 6 main control room, emergency control room, and rooms housing the electrical cabinets of the safety systems, as well as parts of the turbine hall, where they were able to observe the main feedwater pumps, main turbine oil tank, and main condenser. No mines or other explosives were seen.

From the top: “As I have reported earlier, the IAEA has been aware of the previous placement of mines outside the site perimeter and also at particular places inside,” stated agency director general Rafael Mariano Grossi. “Our team has raised this specific finding with the plant, and they have been told that it is a military decision and in an area controlled by military. But having such explosives on the site is inconsistent with the IAEA safety standards and nuclear security guidance and creates additional psychological pressure on plant staff—even if the IAEA’s initial assessment based on its own observations and the plant’s clarifications is that any detonation of these mines should not affect the site’s nuclear safety and security systems.”

Other concerns: The IAEA said in its announcement that Zaporizhzhia temporarily lost connection to its main 750-kV power line on Saturday, forcing the plant to rely on the sole 330-kV backup line for off-site power for some eight hours. The cause of the disconnection, according to the agency, was a technical failure in one of the switchyards.

IAEA experts are closely monitoring the availability of cooling water for Zaporizhzhia’s six reactors following the destruction of the downstream Nova Kakhovka dam in early June and the subsequent water-level drop at the reservoir near the plant. The available water supply remains relatively stable, with the water level decreasing by around one centimeter per day due to usage and evaporation, according to the agency’s experts.

Also, Zaporizhzhia has begun its planned transition of Unit 4 from cold to hot shutdown, the IAEA noted, and is expected to reach hot shutdown status today. Once that is accomplished, Unit 5, now in hot shutdown, will be placed in cold shutdown to conduct preventive maintenance activities, the agency added. The plant’s other units remain in cold shutdown.

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