As tense conditions at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant continue, the UN’s nuclear watchdog met with Russia’s top nuclear official in hopes of assuring the safety of Europe’s biggest atomic energy station as the Russian invasion drags on.
In a statement, Rafael Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stressed the urgency of ensuring safety at the plant and emphasized the IAEA’s “readiness to play its indispensable role” at a May 4 Istanbul meeting.
Rosatom acknowledged the meeting in a statement of its own, saying that CEO Alexei Likhachev had discussed the safety of Ukrainian nuclear facilities “under [the] current complicated circumstances.”
Neither statement disclosed the details of the discussion — but the fact that they took place offers a clear indication that Rosatom considers itself the steward of the Zaporizhzhya plant, which Russian forces stormed in a dramatic assault on March 4, a few days into their unprovoked incursion into Ukraine.
Grossi has repeatedly asked to visit the plant with IAEA experts for a safety check, but those plans appear not to have been discussed at the meeting with Likhachev.
The shelling of the Zaporizhzhia plant, resulting in the destruction of a training laboratory adjacent to one of its six Soviet-built reactors, and represents the first time in history that an operating nuclear power plant had fallen under a sustained military attack.
Since Russian troops occupied the plant, they have held the Ukrainian operators hostage, forcing them to work arduous hours at gunpoint while answering to a handful of Russian specialists imported to the war zone from Rosatom.
The IAEA has criticized this arrangement, saying in a report published last week that “the presence of Rosatom staff could lead to interference with the normal lines of operational command or authority, and potential frictions when it comes to decision-making.”
But Rosatom’s presence at the plant seems to assume that Russia’s forces will eventually envelope the Zaporizhzhya Oblast in southeastern Ukraine, where the plant is located, eventually making the plant itself a spoil of war. It also positions Rosatom itself as a tool of Moscow’s invasion.
Ukraine operates 15 nuclear reactors of Soviet design that are arrayed throughout four nuclear power plants – thought the Zaporizhzya plant’s location nearby fighting in the neighboring Donbas region have situated it in the crosshairs of Russian forces.
The IAEA’s Grossi had visited the Chernobyl nuclear power plant last week after it had been occupied by Russian forces for 35 days.
Since the withdrawal of Russian troops from the infamous site of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe, alarming reports have surfaced reflecting a disregard for nuclear safety by Russian soldiers
According to the IAEA’s statement, seven of Ukraine’s reactors are currently connected to the electricity grid, with the remainder held in reserve.