International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Mariano Grossi told the UN Security Council on 11 August that the IAEA’s presence at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear PP in Ukraine, to allow it to carry out important technical activities in nuclear safety, security and safeguards and at the same time provide a stabilising influence, is now essential.

In a session to discuss the situation at the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March, Mr Grossi reiterated his call for all military action to stop at the site, which came under shell fire on 5 and 6 August.

“Based on the most recent information provided by Ukraine, IAEA experts have preliminarily assessed that there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of the shelling or other recent military actions. However, this could change at any moment,” he told the Security Council via a video link.

“I ask that both sides of this armed conflict co-operate with the IAEA and allow for a mission to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.”

The IAEA has received contradictory information from Ukraine and Russia about the status of the facility, its operation and the damage it sustained, and without a physical presence on site, IAEA experts are unable to corroborate these assessments. “It is those facts, gathered during a site visit, that are needed for the IAEA to be able to develop and provide an independent risk assessment of the nuclear safety and security risks,” said Mr Grossi.

At such a mission, which Mr Grossi would lead, IAEA experts would assess the physical damage to the facilities, determine whether the main and backup safety and security systems are functional, and evaluate the working conditions of the control room staff. At the same time, the IAEA would also undertake urgent safeguards activities to verify that nuclear material is used only for peaceful purposes. Experts needs to verify the status of the reactors and inventories of nuclear material to ensure non-diversion from peaceful use. The IAEA would also perform maintenance of safeguards equipment in order to ensure remote transmission of data and maintaining continuity of knowledge after leaving the facility.

“Not only would a mission to Zaporizhzhia be beneficial to the independent work of the IAEA, but I believe it would also be beneficial to the operators and regulators of the nuclear plant,” Mr Grossi said.

Worldwide support

The IAEA is supported by similar demands from various influential organisations including the World Nuclear Association, the American Nuclear Society and the Nuclear Industry Association, which have backed the call.

Between 5 August and 11 August 10 hits on the office and fire station of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant were recorded, according to reports from both sides, which are blaming each other.

Ukraine's nuclear agency Enerhoatom said several radiation sensors were damaged and there was a small fire on nearby grass, with no injuries.

But there are fears that more shelling could have disastrous consequences.

Speaking to the BBC, Ukraine's ambassador to the IAEA said that a blast at the plant could be "much worse than Chernobyl".

Given the worrying situation, WENRA (Western European Nuclear Regulators Association) has led a technical group  to assess once again the safety level of ZNPP based on information reported to date to IAEA.

The shelling on 6 and 7 August impacted the electrical power supply, a nitrogen-oxygen station and the dry spent
nuclear fuel storage facility. No direct damage to the reactors or spent fuel pool occurred and no radioactive release was
detected on-site by the operator. The available radiation monitoring networks in the
environment also showed no increase in radiation.

But as a result of shelling, several explosions occurred near the electrical switchboard of the
750 kV external power supply line, which caused the shutdown of the electrical power 
transformer and two backup transformers.
The emergency protection system of Unit 3 was triggered and backup safety diesel generators
were set in operation to maintain the power supply to the reactor and spent fuel pool cooling
systems. The electrical power supply status of the 5 other units of ZNPP was not affected by this