Efforts to create Zaporizhzhia safety zone continue amid fresh concerns

19 October 2022

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has reiterated the urgency of establishing a safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

All six of the reactors at Zaporizhzhia are currently shutdown (Image: IAEA)

Grossi said that the nuclear plant had restored the connection to its last remaining 750 kilovolt power line on Tuesday 18 hours after its external power was lost for the third time in 10 days. Unlike the two previous occasions, when emergency diesel generators had to provide the backup power, this time the plant continued to receive electricity from an off-site 330kV backup line.

Although no fresh shelling was reported in the IAEA’s Tuesday update, it said that four landmines had exploded near the plant and work on restoring a second 330 kV backup line had been delayed by the shelling of infrastructure elsewhere in Ukraine.

The IAEA staff at the site also reported that the deputy director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Valeriy Martynyuk, had been released after more than a week. The previous director general of the plant had also been detained earlier this month before, in his case, being released into Ukraine-controlled territory.

Grossi welcomed the release of Martynyuk, but called it "another concerning development that I sincerely hope will be resolved swiftly".

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator Energoatom said that two other senior staff - the head of IT services and the assistant general director - had been detained on Monday and Ukraine’s nuclear regulator SNRIU said the occupiers did not have "adequately trained and legitimate personnel" to manage the plant so were "trying to force Ukrainian specialists to enter into employment contracts".

In other developments on Wednesday, Russia’s Tass news agency reported that Russian forces had stopped an attempted landing of Ukrainian forces on more than 30 boats near Energodar, suggesting that they might have been planning to attempt to recapture the Zaporizhzhia plant, which has been under the control of the Russian military since early March.

With the nuclear power plant located on, or near, the front line of the war between Ukraine and Russia, Grossi said that recent events meant he believed "even more on the need to reach agreement" as soon as possible with the two sides on a safety and security zone at and around the plant.

In an interview with La Nacion newspaper during his current trip to Argentina, Grossi explained the process was "advancing" and said the two sides thought the idea of a safety zone was feasible and both had agreed to work with the IAEA. Asked if the accusations made by the two sides in the war complicated matters, he said he had to try to ignore that and instead his task was to “constantly keep my eyes on the goal that I have to achieve: which is to protect the plant".

Zaporizhzhia is Europe's largest nuclear power plant with six reactors. The Ukrainian plant has been under Russian military control since early March, but has continued to be operated by its Ukrainian staff. Parts of the plant, including some buildings close to the reactors, have been damaged during shelling at times during the conflict, which each side has blamed on the other. The nuclear power plant is within the part of Ukraine that Russia's president said his country was annexing two weeks ago, with a new Russian company created to run the nuclear plant. Ukraine has rejected Russia's annexation announcement, and insists it continues to operate and regulate the plant. 

Researched and written by World Nuclear News