Warnings about state of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant should be taken seriously, says nuclear expert


As it happens5:26Warnings about state of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant should be taken seriously, says nuclear expert

The international community should take warnings about the physical condition of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant seriously, a former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official has said.

On Thursday, a team of 14 IAEA officials visited the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, after months of negotiations. The plant has been held by the Russian armed forces since its capture in March. It is operated by Ukrainian engineers.

“Military activity and operations are increasing in this part of the country. And that worries me a lot,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told a press conference in Vienna on Friday after the visit of the IAEA. factory.

The team itself was slowed to reach the site due to shelling.

Two IAEA officials will remain on site to monitor the situation and provide updates to the agency.

“We have to take his [Grossi’s] warnings very seriously,” said Tariq Rauf, the former head of verification and security policy at the IAEA, in an interview with As it happens guest host Katie Simpson.

Here is part of his conversation with As it happens.

What stood out to you the most during this press conference, in terms of safety and security?

I think we were somewhat reassured, although he expressed concern about the continuing fighting near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. He also said that although … Ukrainian staff are under considerable psychological pressure, the fact remains that they are professionals and do their jobs well.

He was also concerned that not all of the reactor’s safety systems were operational, but enough were operational to give us some level of comfort, so to speak.

United Nations vehicles carrying members of the IAEA inspection mission leave the city of Zaporizhzhia on September 1. (Genia Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

There will be inspectors who will now be permanently based in this nuclear power plant. Describe what type of environment you expect them to work in.

The Director General said there would be two IAEA staff members with a continuous presence. And I think it will be mainly safety and security experts in the control room, which the IAEA team visited.

They saw no soldiers, he said. But nevertheless, the atmosphere was tense since the factory itself and the entire area within it is under Russian military occupation. Thus, these two IAEA staff members will be in 24/7 communication with IAEA headquarters, and if they encounter any problems or difficulties, they will immediately alert the IAEA here at Vienna.

Are you worried about their safety? Are they really ready to operate in a war zone?

Some people have described these two poor staffers as sort of hostages or human shields, and in one respect they might be. This means that perhaps both sides, or whichever side is attacking the plant, will now stop doing so or at least reduce the intensity of their operations.

But I think it’s important that the two IAEA staff members can provide an independent technical assessment of what’s going on at the two operating reactors. Four of the six reactors are not working, but they still have nuclear fuel on site. It would cause a radiological accident if hit.

Mr Grossi suggested that one of his big concerns was power outages, can you explain why this is such a big concern at the moment?

Yes. Thus, each nuclear power plant must have [an] external power supply to run the cooling system – the water that keeps the reactor cool and also the nuclear fuel cool. In the event of a power outage, even if the reactor shuts down, there is a lot of residual heat in the nuclear material from the fission reaction.

And so the reactors have a backup cooling system and then also a backup to the backup, and likewise two backups to the power supply. He therefore mentioned that of the four main power lines entering the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, only one is operational. But there is also a backup power line from a dam and there are also diesel generators on site. So for the moment, the energy situation is good. But nevertheless, with only one main power line, we still have a risk.

UN vehicles carrying members of the IAEA inspection mission drive on a road outside the city of Zaporizhzhia, after their visit to Russia’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. (Genia Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine accuses the Russians of interfering with the work of the IAEA… how concerned should the IAEA be about maintaining a sense of being an impartial actor?

The general manager made no complaints. And I think the Ukrainian side should first of all thank the IAEA team for risking their lives to carry out this mission, rather than criticizing them.

The Director General has said that he will report to the UN Security Council on Tuesday and then we can get a full report on what he has seen and what obstacles or difficulties, if any, he has encountered during his visit.

What are you going to hope to learn in the next few days and weeks to come?

We hope that the intensity of the fighting will at least stop. There are also demands from Ukraine, which I think are very reasonable, for the reactor site to be demilitarized and eventually returned to Ukrainian control.

If this does not happen, at least the military hostilities on the site and its surroundings should cease immediately or as soon as possible.

Do you think there’s a realistic chance of that happening?

I don’t think so, unfortunately.

With files from The Associated Press. Interview conducted by Kevin Robertson. This Q&A has been edited and condensed.


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