Grossi to discuss Zaporizhzhia staffing concerns

02 February 2024

The decision to block access for staff yet to sign a contract with the Russian operators of the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and its impact on safety, is going to be raised by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi when he visits the site next week.

IAEA staff have been at Zaporizhzhia since September 2022 (Image: IAEA)

Grossi, who will be visiting the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday to discuss nuclear safety and security issues in the country, is then going to to make his fourth trip across the frontline of the war to get to the six-reactor Zaporizhzhia plant.

On Thursday the current operators of the plant, which has been under Russian military control since early March 2022, said that 120 workers still employed by Ukraine's national nuclear energy company Energoatom would not be allowed access to the site.

The IAEA says: "The staff working at the ZNPP (Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant) now consists of former Energoatom employees who have adopted Russian citizenship and signed employment contracts with the Russian operating entity, as well as staff who have been sent to the ZNPP from the Russian Federation. The ZNPP told the IAEA team at the site today that there are enough certified personnel at the plant and all positions are fully filled."

Grossi said he would be discussing the new development during his visit, saying: "It is of crucial importance that the plant has the qualified and skilled staff that it needs for nuclear safety and security. The number of staff has already been reduced significantly since the war began almost two years ago." He told the UN in January that even with reactors shut down the plant was "operating on significantly reduced staff who are under unprecedented psychological pressure which ... is not sustainable".

The IAEA says there were about 11,500 staff working there before the war began. The current operators of the plant say they have 4500 staff employed there and 940 applications under consideration, with 750 people promoted over the past year: "We emphasise that at the moment the Zaporozhye NPP is staffed with the necessary personnel to ensure the safe operation of the station."

Yuriy Chernichuk, the Russian operator's director of the plant, said the decision to lock the 120 specialists out of the site was needed to bring the site into line with the Russian nuclear industry's norms and regulations: "We are grateful for their professionalism and dedication. And, despite the fact that there was enough time to make a decision on concluding a contract with the Russian operating company, we are ready to consider their applications if they make the appropriate decision."

The current team of IAEA experts at the site have this week visited unit 1's reactor hall and safety rooms, two fresh fuel storage facilities, the dry used fuel storage facility and water sprinkler ponds as well as observing some of the commissioning work for the new diesel steam generators, which will be used to process liquid waste. The IAEA said the plant operators have "not yet confirmed whether the steam generated by this new equipment will enable it to place all reactor units in cold shutdown". One remains in 'hot' shutdown to produce steam for the plant's needs.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News