The IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi should tell the Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom that they must not make any efforts to restart reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant site that they are illegally occupying, Greenpeace said today. Operation of any of the Zaporizhzhia reactors would reduce the safety margins at a plant already severely compromised by nearly two years of Russian armed occupation and increase the risk of a major radiological release. The IAEA Director General on 26 January 2024 said that during his visit to Zaporizhzhia he would be asking for details of Russian plans for the nuclear plant, including any plans for reactor restart.
One of the many obstacles to a reactor restart, would be to secure sufficient cooling water to operate a reactor. Greenpeace analysis and nuclear experts at the University of Vienna have estimated one Zaporizhzhia reactor needs an enormous 6000 tons (cubic meters) per minute, which would require Rosatom to construct a new pumping system and pipework to the Dnipro river.
The Greenpeace analysis also highlights that despite continuing Russian violations of IAEA safety and security principles, the IAEA does not report on these violations. This includes recent confirmation of placement of explosive mines at the plant – which is a violation of IAEA Principle 2 which excludes munitions from the plant.
“It’s important that the IAEA has raised the possibility of restart of Zaporizhzhia – it is one of the worst-case scenarios at the plant and a recipe for a Russian-made nuclear disaster. Due to the Russian war crime in destroying the Nova Kakhovka dam, there is insufficient cooling water at the plant. Our preliminary analysis concludes that Rosatom would have major challenges to secure water supply from one or two Dnipro water channels but it’s not impossible. The Zaporizhzhia plant is already at major risk. Any attempt to operate a reactor increases dramatically the potential for a reactor core melt and massive radiation release - which of course may be why Russia would attempt such a dangerous operation. Rosatom and the Russian government need to hear loud and clear from the IAEA there must be no moves for restart,” said Shaun Burnie, nuclear specialist for the Ukraine Green Reconstruction project.
Rosatom’s appointed director of Zaporizhzhia, Yuriy Chernichuk on 29 December 2023, told the First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation Sergei Kiriyenko that next year the station is, “determined to work at full capacity.” There are many obstacles to any restart of the nuclear plant due to Rostom’s occupation of the nuclear plant including: physical condition of the reactors and safety systems after nearly two years of Russian occupation; inadequate vital inspection and maintenance by a dramatically reduced workforce, including underqualified Rosatom appointed staff, and the vulnerability of the off-site electrical grid due to the Russian war. Evidence of the degradation of the plant has been repeatedly raised by the State Nuclear Regulatory Institute of Ukraine (SNRIU).
In September 2023 Greenpeace warned that the IAEA was unable to fulfill its mandate at the plant due to Rosatom and the Russian armed forces blocking access to critical parts of the plant, and that the IAEA was failing to report on Russian violations of safety and security principles. Two weeks ago the IAEA Director General reported to the UN Security Council that there were no indications of violations of the five IAEA principles and that generally Russia was cooperating with the IAEA.
“How is it possible that Rosatom and the Russian armed forces can place explosive munitions at Europe’s largest nuclear plant and it’s not a violation? There can be no normalising of the absolute crisis at Zaporizhzhia by the IAEA including a pretense that Russia is cooperating with the IAEA. The longer the Russian occupation and war continues, the higher the risk of a severe nuclear event increases. Maximum international pressure must be brought to bear against Rosatom to end their occupation and violation of all nuclear safety and security standards, which means applying effective sanctions and western nuclear companies ending their business with this state criminal organization,” said Jan Vande Putte, nuclear expert at Greenpeace Green Reconstruction project.