Differences over Zaporizhzhia safety zone prospects

07 March 2023

A senior Russian diplomat says that talks on a security zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant "are losing momentum" while Ukraine's energy minister says that diplomatic steps to return it to Ukraine have "reached a dead end".

IAEA experts have been at the plant since last September (Image: IAEA)

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has been pushing for the establishment of a safety and security zone around the six-unit nuclear plant, which is on the frontline of the Russia-Ukraine war.

He says that such protection is required to reduce the risk of damage to the plant, which has been occupied by the Russian military since early March 2022. He has spent months trying to get agreement on the details of such a zone and is continuing his efforts, telling the IAEA board this week: "Can we really say we are serious about nuclear safety and security if we are not able to provide for a nuclear safety and protection zone around the plant which is in an active combat zone? I don’t think so ... let’s not forget that the first priority in the world at this point in time, is to avoid a nuclear accident with serious radiological consequences in a nuclear power plant that has been shelled several times during the war."

Although both sides in the war have agreed in principle to the idea of a zone to avoid military exchanges at the nuclear power plant, the details - such as the area of the zone and whether military equipment could be allowed within it - have not yet been able to be agreed.

On Sunday, Ukraine's energy minister Herman Halushchenko told Ukrainian TV: "Currently, the situation has reached a dead end. Our position, which we voice on all international platforms, boils down to the fact that any negotiations regarding the ZNPP should be based on: firstly, the plant's demilitarisation, and secondly, the exit of Rosatom employees from the ZNPP. Thirdly, Ukrainian personnel should be given the opportunity to operate a nuclear facility calmly, without pressure."

He added that the condition of equipment and facilities at the plant were deteriorating and, he said, there was a "feeling" that the Russians wanted to "leave it to us in a non-working state after deoccupation".

In response to those comments, Russia's permanent representative to the Vienna-based international organisations, Mikhail Ulyanov, told Tass news agency "it should be stated that talks on this zone are losing momentum" and claimed that the Ukrainian side was "looking for pretexts that have nothing to do with the real state of affairs". He added that "under these conditions, there is no need for Grossi to visit Moscow" for further talks at the moment.

Renat Karchaa, an advisor to the director general of Russian nuclear company Rosenergoatom, said that Russia supports the idea of a security zone around Zaporizhzhia, with the key condition of a moratorium on any artillery activities around the plant and the nearby city of Energodar.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News