IAEA chief: Situation at Ukraine plant remains “fragile”

February 6, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear News
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. (Photo: Energoatom)

Recent staff cuts at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) are raising concerns among international nuclear watchdogs.

Ahead of his visit to the plant on February 7, International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Mariano Grossi told the Associated Press that he will focus on the impact of personnel reductions, especially while Russia has denied access to employees of Ukraine’s nuclear operator, Energoatom.

“This huge facility used to have around 12,000 staff. Now, this has been reduced to between 2,000 and 3,000, which is quite a steep reduction in the number of people working there,” Grossi told the AP. “To man, to operate these very sophisticated big installations, you need a certain number of people performing different specific functions.”

The IAEA has repeatedly expressed alarm about the facility amid fears of a potential nuclear catastrophe. The plant has repeatedly been caught in the crossfire since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and seized the facility shortly after.

Plant status: All six reactors at ZNPP have been shut down for months, which is unusual for a plant of its size. Even while off line, the plant requires a certain number of employees to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Rossi plans to also check the stability of the facility’s cooling function in the wake of the Kakhovka dam collapse last summer, and the presence of mines in and around the plant. The plant suffered yet another blackout last month, highlighting continuing nuclear safety concerns as battles rage nearby. Staff working at ZNPP now are former Energoatom workers who adopted Russian citizenship and signed new contracts with Russia’s operator at the site.

“All these things tell us that the situation in Zaporizhzhia continues to be fragile and it requires constant care,” Grossi said.

Outside involvement: A question mark remains over further help for Ukraine from the United States, its biggest supplier.

The 27 countries of the European Union agreed last week to provide Ukraine with €50 billion (roughly $54 billion) in support for its ailing economy. But the EU’s military backing is falling short, leaving Ukraine’s forces grappling with ammunition shortages while Russia uses its economic muscle to keep up the pressure with probing ground and air attacks.

Grossi’s visit coincides with a visit by the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who will discuss military aid and financial support as well as Ukraine’s ambition of joining the EU.

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