Ukrainian nuclear inspectorate in spat with IAEA over Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant

zaporizhzhya The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Credit: Ralf1969

Ukraine’s state nuclear inspectorate has accused International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi of falling for Russian propaganda and demanded that the UN nuclear watchdog back Kyiv’s plans to drive Russian forces from the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant.

The inspectorate also said that the IAEA should conduct no safety inspections of the plant until Russian troops retreat from it – saying that such a “mission is unacceptable for Ukraine until the deoccupation of the Zaporizhzhia industrial site and the city of Energodar [where the plant is located].”

The complaint and the ultimatum coincide with signs of increasing unhappiness by Ukrainian authorities about what they say is less than whole-hearted support from the international community in the war against Russia.

Moscow’s forces took the Zaporizhzhya plant – the largest of its kind in Europe – during a dramatic fire fight on March 4, raising the specter of a major nuclear disaster.

Grossi has pleaded with both Ukrainian and Russian authorities since the takeover, asking that IAEA inspectors be allowed onto the site in the wake of the battle. But he has been rebuffed by both sides, each insisting that his mission take place under their own national flag.

Last week, Grossi told the Davos World Economic Forum that concerns about the situation at Zaporizhzhya are “what keeps us awake at night.” He said inspectors

need to have access to carry out checks ­– as the UN agency does at all nuclear power plants throughout the world– on safe operations and to audit uranium stocks to ensure they are all accounted for.

Grossi also told the forum that the Zaporizhzhya plant also houses 30,000 kilograms of plutonium and 40,000 of enriched uranium hat could be used to manufacture nuclear bombs.

And it was this last comment that so infuriated Ukraine’s nuclear inspectorate.

“It is very sad that the bold lies of Russian propaganda are broadcast at a high level by the IAEA’s top official,” Oleg Korikov, acting head of the inspectorate, wrote on the inspectorate’s Facebook page.

That Ukraine might attempt to build a nuclear weapon was a propaganda point that Russian President Vladimir Putin had advanced in the leadup to the war.

But even Russian nuclear experts have emphasized that storing plutonium and uranium at nuclear power plants is not irregular, and that Ukraine hardly has the capabilities to produce weapons from it.

Korikov also complained that the IAEA had not responded to numerous Ukrainian appeals to do more about what he called Russia’s “nuclear terrorism.”

He called on Grossi to back Ukraine’s demands for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and nuclear specialists from the Zaporizhzhia plant.

The Ukrainian inspectorate further said on its website that the IAEA’s “”continuity of knowledge about nuclear material at [Ukrainian] nuclear power plants is ensured.

Because of that, it “does not see an urgent need for a visit of safeguards inspectors to the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant”, before adding: “However, at the same time, it cannot be ruled out that the possibility of misuse of nuclear material by Russian representatives may pose a threat to the entire world community.”

That statement came after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said the IAEA was “in touch both with the Ukrainian side and the Russian side regarding the organisation of this trip” to inspect Zaporizhzhia.

According to the official Russian newswire Interfax, Peskov commented on the difficulties of arranging such a visit: “Naturally, the organization of such a trip is accompanied by the need to resolve a whole range of logistics and technical issues – from which side to enter, from which territory, through which crossing points, on what transport, etc. All of these details have yet to be finalized.”

Last month, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said during a visit to Russia-occupied Ukraine that Moscow may soon begin charging Kyiv for the electricity produced at the Zaporizhzhya plant.