Released Zaporizhzhia director general 'not returning to role'

05 October 2022

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it understands that Ihor Murashov, who had been director general at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, will not resume the role after his release from Russian detention.  Energoatom's President Petro Kotin says administration of the plant was transferred to Kyiv following the detention and that he has now taken on the role of its acting director general.

There are six units at Zaporizhzhia (Image: Energoatom)

Murashov was detained by Russian forces on Friday afternoon at about 16:00 local time. His release was confirmed by IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi via Twitter on Monday afternoon. The IAEA said on Tuesday evening that Murashov "is now with his family in territory controlled by Ukraine … it is not yet clear who will replace him in this role".

While Murashov was in detention, Grossi had warned that "such a detention of any member of the plant staff would be a source of grave concern in itself, but also for its psychological impact and pressure on the rest of the staff which is detrimental to nuclear safety and security … his absence from duty in this way also has an immediate and serious impact on decision-making in ensuring the safety and security of the plant."

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) is the largest in Europe, with six reactors. It has been under the control of Russian military forces since early March, but has continued to be operated by its Ukrainian staff. The plant is on the frontline of the war and has suffered damage from shelling, with the two sides blaming the other.

The operator of Ukraine's nuclear power plants, Energoatom, said on Wednesday that its President, Petro Kotin, has now assumed the role of acting director general of Zaporizhzhia.

The statement said: "The station's administration was transferred to Kyiv after the kidnapping of the director general (on Friday) ... all further decisions regarding the operation of the plant will be made directly at the central office of Energoatom."

"All technical issues of the operation of power units will, as before, be resolved by the technical staff of the nuclear power plant in agreement with the company's central office."

In the video message to staff at Zaporizhzhia, Kotin added: "I, the entire company, every employee of Energoatom without exception admire you incredibly. We are proud of your courage and resilience, strength of spirit and human dignity that you demonstrate. Despite everything, standing for the protection of nuclear and radiation safety not only of Ukraine, but of the whole of Europe. You are a real treasure of Energoatom, the domestic energy industry, and the country."

Meanwhile, Reuters reported the state-owned Russian news agency RIA as quoting Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin saying that following the country's decision to annex the wider Zaporizhzhia region: "The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is now on the territory of the Russian Federation and, accordingly, should be operated under the supervision of our relevant agencies."

The IAEA has been seeking to urgently bring in a safety and security zone at, and around, the plant to try to keep it clear of the risk of damage as the war continues. Grossi held talks with both sides last month and was travelling to Kyiv on Wednesday evening - and is expected to visit Moscow as well later this week - to continue his efforts to secure agreement on the implementation of the safety and security zone.

In a tweet posted as he headed for Kyiv, Grossi said: "The need for a Nuclear Safety and Security Protection Zone around Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is now more urgent than ever."

The Russian news agency TASS said that the Russian side was ready to help with any visits to the plant that Grossi might be planning. It quoted Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the Rosenergoatom director general, as saying: "Grossi, who is the IAEA chief, is a person respected in the industry on the global level … he is free to visit, to hold any kind of meeting, any kind of talks at any time. Our doors are always open for him."

The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group warned that the "recent detention of the director general of ZNPP by the Russian forces directly jeopardises the safety" of the plant and called on Russia "to place no obstacles to the management and staff of the plant in exercising their duties, to routine staff rotation or the continuity of supplies and spare parts to the plant".

It also "reiterates that Energoatom is the only iegitimate licensee of the ZNPP and that the plant has to be operated as per licence conditions and in accordance with Ukrainian legal and regulatory requirements under the supervision of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU). The operation of, or any other safety related activities at the ZNPP not authoirised by the SNRIU is illegal under the international legal framework on nuclear safety."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News