IAEA calls for action following drone attacks at Ukraine nuclear plant

April 17, 2024, 12:00PMNuclear News

A recent drone attack at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant prompted an emergency meeting by the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, during which the agency again called for the immediate removal of Russian military and personnel from the site.

The emergency meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors last week in Vienna, Austria, followed the March 7 passage of a board resolution that called "for the urgent withdrawal of all unauthorized military and other unauthorized personnel from Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia plant and for the site to be immediately returned to the full control of the competent Ukrainian authorities.”

Grossi

Call to action: The IAEA confirmed that the main reactor containment structures at Zaporizhzhia had suffered at least three direct strikes, IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said. The April 7 strike reportedly resulted in one casualty, and the April 9 attack targeted the adjacent training building.

The plant stopped producing electricity for the national grid in September 2022, but it has kept one of its six units in hot shutdown (the other five units are in cold shutdown) to provide district heating for the neighboring town as well as process steam for liquid waste treatment at the site. The heat produced is low and manageable; cooling water requirements can be met by on-site equipment. Earlier this year, the plant started operating four newly installed diesel steam generators to handle such waste.

The American Nuclear Society supports the IAEA’s five concrete principles for protecting Zaporizhzhia—the first and foremost of which is that “there should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant.” The second principle says that the site “should not be used as storage or a base for heavy weapons . . . or military personnel that could be used for an attack from the plant.”

Kotin

Ukraine nuclear official: Petro Kotin, head of Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear energy regulator, said during a radio interview today, “I would evaluate the actions of the IAEA as very cautious in addressing the main problem—the liberation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the transfer of control over it to the Ukrainian side.”

“The IAEA has so far shown an inability to achieve the goal [liberation of plant] with the tools it has,” Kotin added. “At the same time, the presence of IAEA experts at all of our stations undoubtedly plays a positive role. The Russians, while shelling our infrastructure, have not yet targeted nuclear power plants. We hope this will not happen.”

A closer look: Zaporizhzhia has been under Russian military control since March 2022. It is one of the 10 largest nuclear plants in the world and is Europe’s largest.

Fortunately, IAEA inspectors have reported that Zaporizhzhia’s nuclear safety and security systems were unharmed by drone strikes the week of April 8. Nuclear power plants are robust, hardened pieces of critical infrastructure built to withstand natural and man-made hazards. Thick, steel-reinforced concrete containment buildings protect the reactor cores and are designed to keep radioactive materials isolated from the environment. Still, nuclear plants, like all other industrial civilian infrastructure, were not designed with war in mind.

What’s next? Unit 4 is transitioning to a “cold” shutdown state following the end of the winter heating season. While keeping one reactor in continued hot shutdown is not itself a cause for concern, this is the most prudent course to take, given the circumstances, according to officials. Scientific and technological experts with the ANS Rapid Response Taskforce will continue to monitor the engineering and safety situation at the Russian-occupied plant.


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