Ukraine nuclear plant is 'out of control', says UN Nuclear Chief

He urges Kyiv, Moscow to allow experts to visit the site


Published: Wed 3 Aug 2022, 2:34 PM

UN Nuclear Chief and Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine was "completely out of control”. In this regard, he issued an urgent plea to Russia and Ukraine to quickly allow experts to visit the sprawling complex, in order to stabilize the situation and avoid a nuclear accident.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, he explained that the situation is getting more perilous every day at the Zaporizhzhia plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, which Russian troops seized in early March, soon after the beginning of their conflict with Ukraine.

“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated [at the plant]... What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous,” at the plant, he said.

To make matters worse, it is situated “in a place where active war is ongoing”, near Russian-controlled territory.

The physical integrity of the plant hasn’t been respected, he said, citing shelling at the beginning of the war, when it was taken over, following which Ukraine and Russia often accused each other of attacks at Zaporizhzhia.

There is “a paradoxical situation” in which the plant is controlled by Russia, but its Ukrainian staff continues to run nuclear operations, leading to inevitable moments of friction and alleged violence, he said. While the IAEA has some contacts with staff, they are “faulty” and “patchy".

The supply chain of equipment and spare parts has been interrupted, “so we are not sure the plant is getting all it needs”, says Grossi. The IAEA also needs to perform very important inspections to ensure that nuclear material is being safeguarded, “and there is a lot of nuclear material there to be inspected".

“When you put this together, you have a catalogue of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility… And this is why I have been insisting from day one that we have to be able to go there to perform this safety and security evaluation, to do the repairs and to assist as we already did in Chernobyl.”


The Russian capture of Zaporizhzhia renewed fears that the largest of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors could be damaged, setting off another emergency like the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, which happened about 110km north of the capital Kyiv.

Russian forces occupied the heavily-contaminated site soon after the conflict escalated, but handed control back to the Ukrainians at the end of March. Grossi visited Chernobyl on April 27, and tweeted that the level of safety was “like a `red light’ blinking”. On Tuesday, he also mentioned that the IAEA had set up “an assistance mission” at Chernobyl.

The IAEA needs to go to Zaporizhzhia, as it did to Chernobyl, to ascertain the facts of what is actually happening there, to carry out repairs and inspections, and “to prevent a nuclear accident from happening,” Grossi said. The IAEA chief said he and his team needed protection to get to the plant, for which the urgent cooperation of Russia and Ukraine was necessary.

Each side wants this international mission to go from different sites, which is understandable, in light of territorial integrity and political considerations, he said, but there’s something more urgent, and that is getting the IAEA team to Zaporizhzhia.

“The IAEA, by its presence, will be a deterrent to any act of violence against this nuclear power plant,” Grossi said.

“So I’m pleading as an international civil servant; as the head of an international organisation, I’m pleading to both sides to let this mission proceed.”

Grossi was in New York to deliver a keynote speech at Monday’s opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eventually achieving a nuclear-free world.

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