Ukraine prepares to rotate Chernobyl staff

04 April 2022

The staff currently working at Chernobyl have been on site for two weeks, but following the departure of Russian forces, Ukraine said it was preparing to bring in a new shift.

The Chernobyl site (Image: DAZV)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that it had been told by Ukraine that the preparations to rotate staff included an assessment of security for staff moving to and from Chernobyl.

In its update on 3 April, the IAEA noted that many of the workers live in Slavutych, which is outside the 30-kilometre Chernobyl exclusion zone.

The original workers on site at the time Russian forces took over the site on 24 February, remained there for 25 days before the current staff were able to replace them.

The IAEA and Ukraine’s nuclear regulator have both stressed the need for nuclear power plant staff to be well-rested to reduce the risk of mistakes being made. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate for Ukraine (SNRIU) also told the IAEA that it was "analysing the possibility" of resuming regulatory control of Chernobyl, following the Russian forces' departure at the end of last week.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi last week held talks about safety measures and assistance the organisation could provide with senior Ukrainian officials during a visit to the South Ukraine nuclear power plant.

He also held talks with senior Russian officials in Kaliningrad and said he had secured separate agreements relating to safety and assistance intended to protect nuclear facilities with both sides. The original plan had been for a single three-way agreement, but that would have taken longer to achieve because it would have required "draft after draft", he said. Grossi added that he would "head an IAEA assistance and support mission to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as soon as possible. It will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to Ukraine."

Following their meeting with the IAEA on Friday, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said he welcomed their "professionalism", "balanced ... depoliticised approach" and "concentration of attention and efforts on nuclear safety issues", categorising the talks as about "security, security and security".

"The main task of Rosatom is to do everything necessary and assist the IAEA in the safe operation of Ukrainian nuclear facilities," he added.

The IAEA reported on 3 April that it was still not receiving the automatic monitoring data transmissions from Chernobyl and its surrounding areas, although it continues to receive the data from the four operational nuclear power plants in Ukraine, including Zaporozhe, which remains under the control of Russian forces.

On 4 April, in its update, Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator Energoatom said that all four of the country's nuclear power plants were operating within safe limits. It said that seven of the 15 units in the country were currently operating. The others are shut for regular maintenance.

It said that at Zaporozhe, staff are able to rotate but are searched at checkpoints and said that approval was needed for staff to take technical decisions. It also said that workers could not be well rested while living under occupation.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News