“Untenable.” This is how Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), last week describe the situation at the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia (ZNPP), which Russia seized in March. He said that every day “the independent work and the evaluations of the Ukrainian regulator are compromised”, the “risk of accident or breach of security increases”. Grossi claimed that he wanted send an IAEA mission to the ZNPP, which is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. In a twist, however, Ukrainian atomic energy regulators, presumably under Kyiv’s leadership, rejected Grossi’s request.
Ukraine believes that an IAEA visit to the ZNPP would legitimize Russian control of the complex. Magnified a rejected this characterization, pointing out that “it is absolutely incorrect. When I go there, I will go there under the same agreement Ukraine has with the IAEA, not with the Russian Federation. President Joe Biden must urgently convince Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to let the IAEA in to guarantee the security of the ZNPP.
The ZNPP, located in eastern Ukraine, is a facility with six light water reactors, and it product up to a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity production before the war. To take control, Russia bombed the area with missiles, starting a widely reported fire. The missile attack raised fears that Moscow could further damage the facility and cause a nuclear radiological incident that could harm Ukrainian civilians and neighboring countries.
Ukrainian authorities set fire to under control, but Russia installed officials from its atomic energy agency, Rosatom, to oversee the daily work of Ukrainian personnel. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine warned in a statement that life in Zaporizhzhia has become intolerable under the leadership of Moscow: the Russian army and representatives of the Russian company Rosatom and its subsidiary Rosenergoatom “constantly terrorize and directly threaten the lives of the personnel of the plant”.
The the wall street journal reported this month that Russian military officers questioned ZNPP employees to assess their loyalty to Moscow and reprimanded ‘workers who speak in Ukrainian rather than Russian and examined their mobile phones for evidence of allegiance to Kyiv’ . The Russians also abducted, tortured or shot workers. Russian factory officials told the workers that they intention connect the ZNPP to the Russian power grid, which would be costly and take years to accomplish, heightening concerns in Kyiv that Moscow is preparing for long-term control of the facility.
Russia does not have publicly opposed a visit to the IAEA. Magnified claims in a June 6 statement to the IAEA Board of Governors that Ukraine had requested an IAEA mission from the plant and that the agency was ready to go. The day after Grossi’s statement, however, Ukraine’s atomic agency, Energoatom, wrote in a Telegram message he had not invited the IAEA to visit. “We view this message from the head of the IAEA as another attempt to gain access to the (power plant) by any means in order to legitimize the presence of occupiers there and essentially condone their actions,” the message reads. .
In March, Grossi said that seven pillars of nuclear power plant safety and security were under threat at the ZNPP. These pillars include: maintaining physical integrity; functional safety and security systems and equipment; the freedom of operating personnel to perform their safety and security duties and without undue pressure; secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites; uninterrupted logistics supply chains and transportation to and from the site; effective onsite and offsite radiation monitoring systems, supported by emergency preparedness and response measures; and reliable communication with regulators and others. In his June 6 statement at the IAEA board, Grossi said five of the seven pillars had been compromised. “That’s why IAEA safety and security experts have to go,” he said.
Furthermore, the ZNPP stopped transmitting safeguards information to the IAEA on May 30, meaning the agency could not determine whether any nuclear material had been stolen or lost. “The Ukrainian regulator informed us that they had lost control of nuclear materials,” Grossi said. Told table.
The IAEA said in a June 12 statement that Ukrainian ZNPP personnel and the agency had jointly restored remote transmission of safeguards data and that the agency was uploading footage for analysis from surveillance cameras.
Fat yesterday reported that the IAEA had again lost its safeguards connection with the ZNPP: “The fact that our transmission of remote safeguards data is again interrupted – for the second time in the last month – only adds to the urgency to send this mission.” He has previously warned that the activities of the inspectors could not be carried out remotely and if they are not promptly sent to the ZNPP “the implementation of safeguards in Ukraine will be jeopardized”.
President Biden is in a tough spot: He is focused on bolstering Zelensky’s fighting forces against Russia, but Putin’s control over the ZNPP could lead to a safeguards or security crisis in Ukraine. Biden is expected to urge Ukraine to approve an IAEA visit. He should also insist that Russia end its acts of intimidation and violence against ZNPP workers and return the plant to Ukraine.
At the same time, the Biden administration should make sure the IAEA sticks to a clear public line that the agency is there to help Kyiv. The disruption of data from remote backups is a worrying sign adding to the urgency of the situation.
At the June IAEA board meeting, Grossi didn’t hide his obvious frustration: “This mission is going to happen, sooner or later. And better, sooner. He continued: “If this agency doesn’t care that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is disconnected from safeguards systems, then we better do something else.”
It goes without saying that Russia must end its illegal aggression against Ukraine. Until then, Biden must urge Kyiv to let the IAEA in. Ensuring the safety and security of the plant and its nuclear materials does not legitimize Putin’s unprovoked war.
Anthony Ruggiero is senior director of the nonproliferation and biodefense program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and served as the National Security Council’s senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense in the Trump administration. Andrea Stricker is the Deputy Program Director. Follow Andrea and Anthony on Twitter @StrickerNonpro and @NatSecAnthony. FDD is a nonpartisan research institute based in Washington, DC, focused on national security and foreign policy.