Ukraine’s nuclear power plant is ‘out of control’

The UN nuclear chief has warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine “is completely out of control” and has issued an urgent appeal to Russia and Ukraine to quickly allow experts to visit the sprawling complex in order to stabilize the situation and avoid a nuclear accident.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that the situation is becoming more perilous every day in Zaporizhzhia plant in the town of Enerhodar, in the south-east of the country, which Russian troops seized in early March, shortly after their invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“All the principles of nuclear safety have been violated” at the plant, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely serious and dangerous.”

Grossi cited numerous security breaches at the plant, adding that it is “in a place where an active war is going on” near Russian-held territory.

The plant’s physical integrity was not respected, he said, citing bombings at the start of the war when it was taken over and continuous reports from Ukraine and Russia. accusing each other of attacks in Zaporizhzhia.

There is “a paradoxical situation” in which the plant is controlled by Russia, but its Ukrainian staff continue to manage its nuclear operations, leading to inevitable moments of friction and alleged violence, he said. Although the IAEA has contact with staff, they are “flawed” and “patchy”, he said.

Grossi said the supply chain for equipment and spare parts had been disrupted, “so we’re not sure the factory will get everything it needs.” The IAEA also has to carry out very important inspections to ensure that nuclear material is protected, “and there is a lot of nuclear material to inspect,” he said.

“When you put that together, you have a catalog of things that should never happen in a nuclear facility,” Grossi said. “And that’s why I’ve been insisting from day one that we need to be able to get there to do that safety and security assessment, to do the repairs and to help like we already did in Chernobyl. “

Russia’s capture of Zaporizhzhia rekindled fears that the largest of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors could be damaged, triggering another emergency like the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, which occurred around 110 kilometers (65 miles) north of the capital Kyiv.

Electric pillars at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Energodar, Ukraine, on April 5, 2022.
Electric pillars at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Energodar, Ukraine, on April 5. Sputnik via AP file

Russian forces occupied the heavily contaminated site shortly after the invasion, but returned control to the Ukrainians in late March. Grossi visited Chernobyl on April 27 and tweeted that the level of security was “like a flashing ‘red light'”. But he said on Tuesday that the IAEA had set up “an assistance mission” in Chernobyl at the time “which has been very, very successful so far”.

The IAEA must go to Zaporizhzhia, as it did to Chernobyl, to check the facts about what is really going on there, to carry out repairs and inspections, and “to prevent a nuclear accident from happening”. happen,” Grossi said.

The IAEA chief said he and his team needed protection to get to the plant and urgent cooperation from Russia and Ukraine.

Each side wants this international mission to depart from different locations, which is understandable in light of territorial integrity and political considerations, he said, but there is something more urgent and that is d send the IAEA team to Zaporizhzhia.

“The IAEA, through its presence, will have a deterrent effect on any act of violence against this nuclear power plant,” Grossi said. “So I’m pleading as an international civil servant, as the head of an international organization, I’m pleading with both sides for this mission to continue.”

Grossi was in New York to deliver a keynote speech at Monday’s opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting to consider the landmark 50-year-old nuclear non-proliferation treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately achieving to a nuclear-free world. .

In the interview, the IAEA chief also spoke about efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that the Trump administration scrapped in 2018 and the Biden administration is working towards. to renew.

Grossi said there was “a continuous effort to try to go to another meeting or round to explore the possibilities of reaching an agreement”. He said he heard that the meeting “could take place soon”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the NPT review conference on Monday that Iran “was unwilling or unable” to agree to a deal to revert to the 2015 accord aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

Grossi said “there are significant differences between the parties to the negotiations” and significant verification issues related to past activities that Iran needs to resolve. “It’s not impossible, it’s complex,” he said.

If the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, is not extended, he said some IAEA inspections would continue. But the JCPOA provides for additional transparency and inspections “which I consider extremely important, very necessary, given the breadth and depth of Iran’s nuclear program”, he said.

Grossi stressed that cooperating with the IAEA, answering its questions, allowing its inspectors to go where they need to be, is essential for Iran to build confidence. “Promises and good words will not be enough,” he said.

On another issue, Grossi said last September’s deal in which the US and Britain will provide Australia with nuclear reactors to power its submarines requires an agreement with the IAEA to ensure that the amount of nuclear material in the ship when it leaves port is there when it comes back.

He said Australia has not decided what type of vessel it will get, so although there have been preparatory talks, substantive talks cannot begin.

Because it’s a military vessel, Grossi said, “there are a lot of confidentiality and information protection measures that have to be built into such an agreement, so it’s very technologically complex. “.

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