Zaporizhzhya is ‘living on borrowed time…’– IAEA

18 April 2023

The dependence of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on a single still functioning power line for the external electricity it needs poses a major risk to nuclear safety and security amid signs of continued military activity in the southern region, director general Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on 13 April in the IAEA’s Update 153.

Underlining the crucial need for an agreement to protect Europe’s largest nuclear power plant during the military conflict, Mr Grossi noted that IAEA experts present at the site continue to regularly hear shelling in the area. Near the plant itself, two landmine explosions occurred outside its perimeter fence, the first on 8 April, and another four days later. It was not immediately clear what caused the blasts.

“We are living on borrowed time when it comes to nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Unless we take action to protect the plant, our luck will sooner or later run out, with potentially severe consequences for human health and the environment,” Mr Grossi said.

Pressing ahead with his efforts to strengthen nuclear safety and security at the ZNPP, he held talks with senior Russian officials including Rosatom director general Alexey Likhachev in Kaliningrad during the week beginning 3 April. In late March, Mr Grossi met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in the city of Zaporizhzhya, ahead of his second visit to the ZNPP since the military conflict began. Crossing the frontline to and from the site on 29 March, the DG could see for himself new indications of increased military activity compared with the situation during his previous visit on 1 September last year.

“At a time of growing speculation about military offensives and counter-offensives in the region, it is more important than ever to agree that a nuclear power plant should never be attacked, nor used to launch attacks from. I will not rest until this has been achieved,” he said.

For the past six weeks, the ZNPP has relied on a single 750 kV power line for reactor cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions. A back-up power 330 kV power line that was damaged on 1 March on the other side of the Dnipro River from the Russian-controlled ZNPP has still not been repaired, with Ukraine saying that military action is preventing its experts from safely accessing the location situated in territory it controls.

If the connection to the 750 kV line is also cut when there is no back-up external electricity available, as happened most recently for 11 hours on 9 March, the ZNPP and its six reactors are forced to rely on emergency diesel generators for power – an unacceptable situation for nuclear safety and security, Mr Grossi said.

The nearby Zaporizhzhya Thermal Power Plant operates the 330 kV open switchyard, through which back-up power has been provided to the ZNPP. The ZTPP also operates the pumping stations which feed cooling water from the Kakhovska Reservoir to the NPP. The Russian Federation reported last month that Rosatom was working to restore three 330 kV lines to the grid system in currently Russian-controlled territory. Rosatom has agreed to provide access for the IAEA team, which should take place next week.

At the plant itself, the operator is planning to transition in the coming days one of two reactors currently in hot shutdown to a cold shutdown state, due to the warmer weather.

The two reactors now in hot shutdown have been used to provide steam and heating to the ZNPP as well as heating to the nearby city of Enerhodar, where many plant personnel live. Reactor unit 5 will remain in hot shutdown to produce hot water and steam for the site. Also because of the spring weather, some of the nine mobile boilers that were installed to provide extra heating during the winter have been switched off, and the remaining will also be turned off soon.

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