Regulators back Ukraine for Zaporizhzhia ownership

30 November 2022

European safety regulators have backed Ukraine as the rightful owner and authority to oversee the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Meanwhile, Russia's Rosenergoatom has appointed Yury Chernichuk as 'director' of the plant.

The six-unit Zaporizhzhia plant (Image: Energoatom)

Summarising a meeting and discussion of the safety and security situation at Zaporizhzhia that took place in Brussels on 24 November, the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) said: "Energoatom is the only legitimate licensee of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and that the plant has to be operated as per license conditions and in accordance with Ukrainian and international legal and regulatory requirements, under the supervision of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU)."

ENSREG is an independent advisory group which has as its members the national nuclear safety regulators of all 27 EU countries, while Belarus, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey are observers. The 24 November meeting also included Ukraine's SNRIU and the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association, which encompasses a similar membership to ENSREG, but adds the UK as well as more observers, including Japan and the USA.

Russia has claimed the right to control Zaporizhzhia since October when the country's President, Vladimir Putin, issued a decree to annex occupied areas of Ukraine, including the power plant's territory. Echoing Ukrainian official statements, ENSREG "considers the decree on the seizure of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as illegal and therefore null and void".

Nevertheless, Rosenergoatom, the Russian state company which owns and operates all its nuclear power plants has established a subsidiary for Zaporizhzhia, and has appointed Yury Chernichuk as director of the power plant and head of the subsidiary. He will replace Oleg Romanenko, the former director of the Balakovo nuclear power plant who held the leadership role from the company's inception.

According to Interfax, Chernichuk is a former Energoatom employee who had held a senior engineering role. Renat Karchaa, an advisor to the Rosenergoatom general director, said that, "members of the former team who have signed contracts are being appointed to senior posts in the facility's management". Energoatom has established a fund into which it pays a significant bonus on all Zaporizhzhia workers' salaries. When it regains full control of Zaporizhzhia, Energoatom plans to distribute the money to employees who have refused to transfer to the Russian subsidiary.

Supporting the efforts of Rafael Mariano Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ENSREG's statement called for "urgently establishing a nuclear safety and security protection zone at Zaporizhzhia, provided that such zone respects Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Earlier this week, the Russian president's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, denied Ukrainian suggestions that Russian forces were preparing to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News