IAEA chief holds 'constructive' talks with Russia's Lavrov

10 March 2022

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, held talks in Turkey with Ukraine's foreign minister and Russia's foreign minister and said "we are making progress on the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine". 

Russia's Sergei Lavrov (centre, left) and the IAEA's Grossi (centre, right) at their meeting (Image: @rafaelmgrossi/Twitter)

The director general flew to Antalya in Turkey on Thursday morning at the invitation of Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. He held separate meetings with Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign minister, and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Following the meetings, Grossi posted pictures of the talks, giving an upbeat update: "Constructive and important meeting with Sergei Lavrov in Antalya, Turkey, this afternoon. We are making progress on the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukaine."

"Important and forward-looking conversations with Dmytro Kuleba today in Antalya, Turkey. Progress being made on the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine."

Although there were no details given of the talks, the Ukrainian foreign minister Kuleba said: "Met with IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi in Antalya to discuss ways of ensuring safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion. I insist: Russia must immediately withdraw forces from the Chernobyl and Zaporozhe NPPs to avert a disaster in Europe."

The Russian side also posted a picture after the meetings, saying: "Today in Antalya, Turkey, Sergey Lavrov and IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi discussed matters of nuclear safety, security and operation of facilities in the context of special military opeartion in Ukraine."

Power supplies cause concern


The timing of the trip came as Chernobyl relies on back-up generators after the main power lines to the area were taken offline by fighting and two high voltage power lines to the Zaporozhe nuclear power plant had been damaged, leaving two power lines, and a standby line, available to the plant.

At Zaporozhe, where two out of six power units are currently operating, the IAEA said it had been told that the necessary off-site power needs could be provided with one power line available, while diesel generators were "ready and functional to provide back-up power".

"Nevertheless, this is another example of where the 'safety pillar' of secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites has been compromised," Grossi said in the IAEA’s update on 9 March.

Ahead of the meetings he also expressed deep concern about the power situation at Chernobyl, and the fact that the automated remote data monitoring transmissions have also been lost from the site, although the reason for this happening was not immediately clear.

"The remote transmission of data from IAEA safeguards equipment located at nuclear sites around the world is an important component of our safeguards implementation, in Ukraine and globally," he said. "Such systems are installed in several facilities in Ukraine, including all nuclear power plants, and enable us to monitor nuclear material and activities at these sites when our inspectors are not present."

The IAEA statement said that the lack of power was likely to lead to a further deterioration of operational radiation safety at the site and add "additional stress" for the technical experts and guards who have not been able to leave the site in the two weeks since Russian forces took over the site.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) and the IAEA had agreed that disconnection from the grid "would not have a critical impact on essential safety functions at the site (Chernobyl) where various radioactive waste management facilities are located".

"Specifically, regarding the site’s spent fuel storage facility, the volume of cooling water in the pool is sufficient to maintain effective heat removal from the spent fuel without a supply of electricity. The site also has reserve emergency power supplies with diesel generators and batteries," the IAEA said.

Power from Belarus?


Meanwhile on 10 March, Interfax reported that Russian deputy energy minister Yevgeny Grabchak had told reporters that Belarus was supplying power to the Chernobyl site via the Mazyr-Chernobyl NPP power transmission line. This development has not been confirmed by the SNRIU, but a statement from Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said it involved a power line dating back to the Soviet-era, which had been mothballed.

The Belarus president's statement on 10 March said Russian President Vladimir Putin had updated him on the situation in the area of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Wednesday evening, and said "reserve generators are currently being used at the station, but their capacity is limited" so "Belarusian specialists were sent there to establish power supply".

President Lukashenko's statement added: "The energy minister was instructed to deal with it and to immediately supply electricity there. We have a power transmission line since the Soviet times, it was mothballed. It must be brought back to operation immediately. In line with the temporary scheme, this electricity will probably have to be supplied to the substation of the Chernobyl power plant in order to ensure the safety of the plant. We need to consider all options."

Earlier on Thursday, in an interview with Ukraine’s Ekonomichna Pravda the CEO of Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator Energoatom, Petro Kotin, said that the emergency generators at Chernobyl were working, and providing stable cooling of used nuclear fuel. He estimated that, were there to be no power at all for cooling, it could take about seven days for critical temperatures to be reached, but stressed that the generators were working at the moment, so that was not a current threat.

Workers at transmission system operator Ukrenergo were ready to repair and restore the power supply, he added, but an agreement was needed on a safe "corridor" for them to carry out the work.

He said that Chernobyl was being treated as a military base and said that for the staff "all issues, even technical, they must agree with the military commander of the Russian Federation. He is now the 'chief atomist' there, who says 'yes' or 'no'. This is a very threatening situation, especially for the psychological state of the staff. These personnel are on the control panels, they directly control the reactors. Employees need to be focused on work, not on people with machine guns nearby".

In its update at 08:00 (06:00 GMT) on Thursday 10 March, SNRIU said that eight of the country’s 15 nuclear power units were continuing to operate within "safe operation limits" and the radioactive situation "meets established norms".

The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) has given its backing to the IAEA director general’s mission to Turkey, saying "there cannot be interference of any kind with Ukrainian member operators’ ability to safely perform their work".

Its concerns included: staff not getting proper rest; difficulties in providing supplies to power plants; risks to power supplies and availability of fuel supplies for long-term use of emergency diesel generators; external pressures jeopardising decision-making and disrupted communication with the regulator and support organisations like the IAEA and WANO.

WANO said it supports the "immediate establishment of a nuclear safety framework at all nuclear facilities in Ukraine that ensures that the seven pillars of nuclear safety and security are achieved and maintained".

Researched and written by World Nuclear News