Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency travels to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) this week to discuss and assess important issues and recent developments related to the still fragile nuclear safety and security situation at the site, including the reduced number of staff working at this major facility.
It will be the fourth time Director General Grossi crosses the frontline of the war to visit the ZNPP, whose six reactors have all been in shutdown for nearly eighteen months and produce no electricity but still hold large amounts of nuclear fuel that must be kept safe, including adequately cooled, and secure.
Among issues concerning current nuclear safety and security challenges at the ZNPP, including potential risks related to the plant’s equipment maintenance activities, the Director General reports in Ukraine Update 208 (1 February) that he will also raise the crucial issue of staffing at the ZNPP and request further information about a new announcement by the plant that effective 1 February no workers employed by Ukraine’s national operator Energoatom will be allowed at the site. The staff working at the ZNPP now consists of former Energoatom employees who have adopted Russian citizenship and signed employment contracts with the Russian operating entity, and staff that have been sent to the ZNPP from the Russian Federation. The ZNPP told the IAEA team at the site today that there are enough certified personnel at the plant and all positions are fully filled.
“I will discuss this latest development when I visit the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant … it is of crucial importance that the plant has the qualified and skilled staff that it needs for nuclear safety and security. The number of staff has already been reduced significantly since the war began almost two years ago,” Director General Grossi said on 1 February.
To date, IAEA experts have continued to ask the ZNPP to provide more detailed information to fully understand and assess the situation in this regard, in particular about staff operating the main control rooms and those responsible for the maintenance of critical safety infrastructure and processes.
The ZNPP stated recently that nominal staffing levels for nuclear power plants operated by Rosatom are significantly lower than the corresponding staffing levels in Ukraine. The IAEA experts were informed that there currently are 4500 staff employed by the Russian operating entity at the ZNPP and 940 applications under consideration. Prior to the start of the armed conflict there were approximately 11500 staff working at the ZNPP.
At the United Nations Security Council on 25 January, Director General Grossi said the plant has been “operating on significantly reduced staff, who are under unprecedented psychological pressure – which despite the reactors being shutdown is not sustainable”.
At the ZNPP, the Director General will also stress the importance of timely access for the IAEA to all parts of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (NPP) relevant to nuclear safety and security. Access is needed for the IAEA teams based at the ZNPP to fully assess the seven pillars of nuclear safety and security at the ZNPP and also to monitor adherence to the five concrete principles for the protection of the plant.
Five of the ZNPP’s six reactors remain in cold shutdown, while unit 4 is in hot shutdown to produce steam and heat, including for the nearby town of Enerhodar, where most plant staff live.
The IAEA team has observed part of the commissioning work on new diesel steam generators, and has been informed by ZNPP that they had started operating. The new equipment will apparently be used to process liquid waste. The ZNPP has not yet confirmed whether the steam generated by this new equipment will enable it to place all reactor units in cold shutdown.
Image: Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant