In quotes: UN Security Council discusses Zaporizhzhia

12 August 2022

The United Nations Security Council has held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation involving the Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Here is a round-up of what was said at the meeting, which was called following shelling of the site over the past week.

The IAEA's director general briefed the meeting (Image: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

The background

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine is the biggest in Europe, with six reactors. It has been under Russian military control since early March, but continues to be run by its Ukrainian staff. It is the first time a nuclear power plant has been occupied by a military force. There has been military action in and around it, including shelling of the site in the past week. Both sides have blamed the other for the shelling. All sides have publicly said they want inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site to ensure its safety, but despite months of efforts, such a mission has yet to take place. The emergency United Nations Security Council meeting was called by Russia.

Who is on the Security Council

The United Nations charter gives primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security to the Security Council, which may meet whenever peace is threatened. The Security Council is made up of 15 members. The permanent members are China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA. There are also 10 non-permanent members, each elected for two-year terms. They are currently: Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Norway and UAE.

The format of the meeting

The meeting was called by Russia under the headline of ‘Threats to international peace and security’ saying that shelling of the nuclear power plant risked "potential catastrophic consequences". It asked that the director general of the IAEA brief the Security Council on the situation. Members of the Security Council, and Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, were then each able to make statements to the meeting.

What was said

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said the situation at the plant had deteriorated and was "very alarming … military actions near such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences". He said that all seven of the IAEA’s pillars of nuclear safety and security "have been compromised, if not entirely violated, at one point or another during this crisis". He said that although IAEA experts' preliminary assessment indicated there was no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of this week’s shelling or other military actions "this could change at any moment".  He said that there must be a collective goal to prevent any catastrophe.

Grossi "pleaded" with both sides to cooperate with the IAEA to allow its inspectors "to conduct its mission in Zaporozhzhia as soon as possible". He said that because the plant was currently in Russian occupied territory "it cannot be reached by travelling exclusively through Ukrainian controlled territory …  we have to work pragmatically with authorities in both countries to arrange access for our experts to Zaporizhzhia". He told the meeting that the IAEA was getting information on the situation at the plant from both Russia and Ukraine but, he said, the contents were often contradictory and "without a physical presence the IAEA cannot corroborate some very important facts - it is those facts gathered during a site visit that are needed so the IAEA can develop and provide an independent assessment of the nuclear safety and security risks". It would be able to evaluate the working conditions of the control room staff as well as checking the main, and backup, safety and security systems were functional. It would also carry out the urgent safeguards tasks on verifying the status of the reactors and inventories of nuclear material. Maintenance is also required on IAEA equipment to ensure on-going remote data transfers. He said that previous IAEA missions in Ukraine, including to Chernobyl, showed that establishing the facts was what was needed. "Our on-site presence … will provide a stabilising influence," he added. "I want to underscore that the IAEA has been ready to perform such a mission since June … but unfortunately due to political factors and other considerations it was not possible," he said. Given what has happened over the past two months "we cannot allow such factors to delay us any longer". He said: "This is a serious hour, this is a grave hour and the IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission as soon as possible."

Vassily A. Nebenzia, for Russia, accused Ukrainian armed forces of shelling the plant using heavy artillery, calling the strikes "a direct threat to the nuclear security of the plant". He outlined damage caused and said the initial shelling happened during the shift change, alleging that "clearly the aim of the Kiev regime was to intimidate" staff to "prevent them from going to work and prevent the normal operation of the plant". He said the background radiation levels at the plant remain within limits "but if the shelling continues it is only a matter of time". He said there had been "provocations" by Ukraine using drones at the nuclear power plant, including some  "explosive-laden kamikaze" ones which detonated near critical infrastructure. He called Ukrainian accusations that Russia was attacking the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant "cynical and absurd" and "these propaganda attacks are being seized upon by the Western press - all of this is being done contrary to common sense because the nuclear power plant is controlled by Russian armed forces".

He said the Russians have supported the IAEA on nuclear safety and said they were strictly abiding by the seven principles and said Russia and the IAEA in June had agreed on a full route and schedule for an agency mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant led by Director General Grossi. "However at the last minute the red light was given by the UN department of safety and security and the trip was cancelled," he said. "We stand ready to provide all possible assistance to resolve all organisational matter" and said he hoped the mission would be supported by the UN Secretary General and take place as early as before the end of August, although he added that there would have to be an end to Ukrainian shelling of the nuclear power plant and surrounding area to allow the visit to happen.

Sergiy Kyslytsy, for Ukraine, accused Russia of "staged shelling of the nuclear power plant" and said Russia had decided to "go for broke" after realising their plan was "collapsing like a house of cards" and so had called the Security Council meeting. He said that Ukraine had insisted on an IAEA mission to Zaporizhzia and "had arranged modalities" for the visit so "we deeply regret therefore that such a visit has not yet taken place due to the destructive Russian position. Despite their public declarations, the occupiers have resorted to manipulation and unjustified conditions on the mission’s visit as well as shelling ZNPP and Energodar that’s making the visit impossible so far. We strongly reject the attempts by Russia to escape responsibility for the delay by blaming Ukraine, by blaming the United Nations Secretary General, by blaming the UN Secretariat".

He said Ukraine welcomed the readiness of the IAEA to carry out the visit saying "we stand ready to facilitate its travel through Ukrainian controlled territory". He said that the distance from the Ukrainian controlled area to Zaporizhzhia on the opposite side of the river was five miles, and said that if Russia stopped shelling this area, "what in the world will prevent the mission to cover these five miles?". In light of the militarisation of the nuclear power plant, shelling and mines, the mission would need to include military experts, he said. He said the  "provocative Russian" shelling of Zaporizhzhia presented an "unprecedented threat to Ukraine, to Europe and the world". On the shelling, he alleged that Russian forces and staff had gone to shelters ahead of it taking place, adding that Russia was using the nuclear power plant as a base from which to shell Ukrainian towns across the river. He said Russia's aim was ultimately to disconnect it from the energy system of Ukraine, and  called for Russia "to immediately cease all actions against nuclear facilities and return control over all seized nuclear facilities to the Ukrainian side". 

What others said: 

Carolyn Oppong-Ntiri, Ghana, said recent events "confirms our worst fears of a growing risk of a potential nuclear incident, with catastrophic consequences for human lives and the environment". "Under no circumstances should nuclear facilities intended for peaceful purposes be subjected to such attacks," she stressed, and called for the unconditional withdrawal and removal of all military personnel and equipment and return of the facility to its accredited personnel.

Bonnie Jenkins, USA, said "it is especially galling that the Russian Federation's actions are taking place during the ongoing Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The Russian Federation’s behaviour could not more directly undercut the shared interests of States parties in strengthening non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”  She called on the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine’s territory, to cease all military operations at or near Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and to return full control of the Zaporizhzhia facility to Ukraine.

Edwige Koumby Missambo, Gabon, said the scale of the risks should be a "wake-up call" for the parties and urged them to cooperate with the IAEA to secure the sites and agree on the modalities of an IAEA mission, which was "more than urgent" and urged ceasefire negotiations and encouraged all political and diplomatic efforts to bring about peace.

Mohamed Issa Abushahab, UAE, said "when it comes to nuclear matters, our collective security is truly intertwined", He highlighted the special protections for nuclear power facilities under international law, including Article 56 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which makes clear that "works or installations containing dangerous forces" including "nuclear generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack".

Odd Inge Kvalheim, Norway, called for an immediate return by Russia to Ukraine of the nuclear facilities, noting especially that it was "extremely dangerous" to have had communication lines disrupted between the Ukrainian operators of the nuclear power plant and the Ukrainian nuclear regulator.

Joao Genersio De Almeida Filho, Brazil, said there should be an immediate IAEA mission and said all parties must ensure compliance with, among others, the Convention on Nuclear Safety, Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its amendment. "The absence of immediate threat does not mean the absence of threat.  It only means that the parties still have a chance to avoid a disaster," he said, and called for all parties to refrain from any action that could jeopardise the safety and security of the nuclear power plant.

Ferit Hoxha, Albania, said that until the Russian Federation’s invasion no nuclear power plant had ever been attacked or militarised by an invading army and said there would have been no safety or security concerns if Russia had not launched its war on Ukraine. He stated full support for IAEA and called for it to have access to all facilities in Ukraine. He called on Russia to stop the war and withdraw all its forces from Ukraine.

Ruchira Kamboj, India, called on both sides to return to the path of diplomacy and dialogue, with an immediate ceasefire, stressing India's support for all diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. While the discussion was on the nuclear dimension of the conflict, they also needed to be aware of its impact on developing countries, particularly, on the supply of food grains, fertiliser and fuel.

Jayne Toroitich, Kenya, echoed concerns over the shelling at the nuclear plant and said it was essential the IAEA mission was able to take place and called for an immediate ceasefire which could help avoid the risk of "a new era of major global wars".

Nathalie Broadhurst Estival, France, said Russia bore responsibility for the situation and called for full control of the nuclear power plant to return to Ukraine. She stressed the importance of facilitating a mission of IAEA experts to Zaporizhzhia, with full respect for the sovereignty of Ukraine over its territory and infrastructure, and called for Russia to immediately withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine.

Juan Ramon De La Fuente Ramirez, Mexico, said that any attack or threat against nuclear facilities dedicated to peaceful purposes constitutes a violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and the Agency's Statute and called on the Russian Federation to respect the obligation not to attack civilian objects. There was support too for the need for the IAEA mission to take place to provide "objective, accurate and independent information on the conditions" at the plant.

Cait Moran, Ireland, said the issues at Zaporizhzhia arise from Russia’s "unjustified and unprovoked" war on Ukraine and urged Russia to "stop using the Security Council to try to advance its campaigns of disinformation". If Russia is serious about its safety concerns, it needs to withdraw its troops from the site so Ukraine and the IAEA can uphold obligations for safety and security there.

James Kariuki, United Kingdom, said "Russia’s actions are contrary to the principles of the Convention of Nuclear Safety and other international nuclear safety conventions, and put at jeopardy the safety of millions who would be affected by a nuclear incident in Ukraine". He added "we reiterate our call for IAEA inspectors to be permitted access to all nuclear facilities in Ukraine to address nuclear safety, security and safeguard concerns, in a manner that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty over its territory and infrastructure".

Zhang Jun, China, expressed concern over the shelling at the plant and called on the parties to "exercise restraint and act with caution". He said he hoped "exisiting obstacles could be cleared" so the IAEA mission could happen soon. He said misjudgements and accidents can only by avoided by defusing the situation and restoring peace. "Once again we call on all parties concerned to resume negotiations as early as possible, seek a solution to the Ukraine crisis in a cool-headed and rational fashion, address each other's legitimate security concerns" and create "a balanced and effective and sustainable security architecture" so as to achieve "common security".

Grossi’s closing comment:

The director general of the IAEA concluded the session by saying that "we recognise the obvious differences that exist", but there was agreement from all sides that an IAEA mission to the plant must take place and nuclear safety and security must be ensured: "It is no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when", once "the how" had been addressed and he pledged to intensify his consultations with Ukraine, Russia and the UN to ensure he could conduct a mission "which is so badly needed".

Researched and written by World Nuclear News