IAEA concern over communications issues in Zaporozhye: regulation and safety

March 07 2022

Ukraine updates, March 7:
• Ukrainian regulator says nuclear power plants continue to operate
• Radiation levels remain within the normal range
• The International Atomic Energy Agency warns of telephone and Internet problems in Zaporozhye
• Russia says that the meeting with Ukraine and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear safety “may be useful” and is being held “in physical or in a third country.”
• The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency hopes to make progress in the meeting during the consultations “in the next few hours.”

Two of the six Zaporozhe units are operating at or near full power (Photo: Energoatom)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Ukraine’s nuclear inspectorate had informed it that phone, email and fax lines were not working at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, with only some poor-quality mobile phone service, so “reliable information from the site cannot be obtained through regular communication channels.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) also reported that it could only communicate by email with personnel at Chernobyl, which was seized by Russian forces last month.

In a statement published on the afternoon of Sunday, March 6, SNRIU said safety standards at Chernobyl were still within safety limits, although some monitoring equipment was faulty, and warned that some safety measures, such as not being “used”, were not observed. Air locks, change of clothes and shoes when visiting “dirty” areas, decontamination” as well as transporting military equipment across the site.

In an update on Monday, March 7, SNRIU said that in Zaporozhe “there are no violations of the limits and conditions for the safe operation of the NPP. The radioactive mode meets the established standards. The NPP physical protection systems operate in normal mode. The NPP security departments and physical protection services are on high alert ” .

Of the six reactors, Unit 1 is still under planned maintenance through mid-2022, Unit 2 is fully operational, Unit 3 is in cold shutdown state, Unit 4 is operating nearly at full capacity, and Unit 5 is cool-to-cold reserve status, and Unit 6 in cold closing position.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi expressed his “grave concern” that Ukraine had reported that any action by the administration at the plant, including the technical operation of the six reactor units, required the approval of the Russian commander.

“Only a few days after the seven key elements of nuclear safety and security were presented to the IAEA Board, many of them have already been compromised. In order for the plant to be able to operate safely and securely, management and staff must be allowed to carry out their vital duties in stable conditions without outside interference or pressure. No need.”

“The deteriorating situation with regard to vital communications between the regulator and the Zaporozhe NPP is also a matter of deep concern, especially during armed conflict which could endanger the country’s nuclear facilities at any time. Reliable communications between the regulator and operator is an important part of overall nuclear safety and security ” .

The IAEA said it welcomed news from SNRIU that operational staff in Zaporozhye are now rotating three shifts, but in Chernobyl, it said more than 200 technical staff and guards had not been able to rotate since February 23.

Grossi said last week that there is a need for employees who are well-rested “in any activity, but especially here where you have to be very focused and not make mistakes…that can lead to mistakes”.

“I call on those who effectively control Chernobyl to immediately allow personnel there to rotate for safety and security,” he said in a statement Sunday.

IAEA hopes for progress in safety talks

Grossi on Friday offered to travel to Chernobyl to meet with the two sides to secure commitments to the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.

According to Russia’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mikhail Ulyanov, who held discussions with the Director General on Monday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron in a conversation on Sunday, “A meeting between Russia, Ukraine and the IAEA is about safety and security. Security at Ukrainian nuclear facilities, as proposed by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is advantageous. It can be arranged by default or in a third country. “

Speaking on Monday at 1:00 PM in Vienna (12:00 GMT) at a media briefing, Grossi said he was more focused on the substance of any talks, rather than the location, and said he hoped he could make progress with the arrangement. The talks came during “consultations in the next few hours.”

He said the urgency of the need to comply had appeared in a number of “episodes” over the past few days that did not involve the release of radiation, but did cause problems and made clear that there was a need for a commitment “to stay away from nuclear facilities when it comes to military operations.”

One of those episodes involved bombing around the site of the Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology, a nuclear research facility. In an update on Monday afternoon, SNRIU said a substation, air conditioning units and the exterior of the building itself were damaged, although “the radiological situation at the site is normal.”

In statements to the IAEA Board of Directors, also on Monday, the IAEA Director General said: “We must avoid a nuclear accident in Ukraine. Let’s not hide behind ‘all’ or ‘none at all’ solutions.” This time, if there is A nuclear accident, the tsunami would not be caused by Mother Nature. Rather, it would be the result of man’s failure to act when we knew we could, and we knew we should.”

Asked at the briefing whether these comments indicated that the two sides were placing conditions on the talks, Grossi said they did not, but said it would not be surprising if they wanted to try to “soil” any agreement with other issues, and wanted to stress that His focus was solely on nuclear safety.

As an example of the kind of issues that need to be addressed, he said some pieces of equipment are needed at nuclear plants as part of their normal operations, so agreement on a way to deliver them needs to be agreed given the current situation and broader supply chain issues. .

The Group of European Nuclear Regulators for Nuclear Safety held an extraordinary meeting on the situation in Ukraine on Sunday, with the participation of officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, SNRIU and the Association of Nuclear Regulators in Western Europe. She said she supports the IAEA’s efforts to reach an agreement on the safety of nuclear facilities in Ukraine, and called on SNRIU to restore its control over Ukrainian facilities and materials.

Researched and written by Global Nuclear Energy News