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Zaporizhzhia: What will the IAEA mission achieve?

Gero Rueter
August 30, 2022

After months of shelling at the Russian-occupied plant sparking fears of nuclear disaster, an IAEA visit is raising hopes of easing the situation.

The Zaporizhzhia power plant site with six large buildings at night 
With its six large reactors, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the largest in EuropeImage: Dmytro Smolyenko/Ukrinform/IMAGO

A group of 14 international experts led by Rafael Grossi, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are en route to Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine. The team hopes to gain an accurate picture of the situation on the ground and possible damage at Europe's largest nuclear power plant, as well as the working conditions of its Ukrainian staff.

Zaporizhzhia has been occupied by Russian forces since the first weeks of the country's invasion of Ukraine. Repeated shelling around the complex since July, for which both Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame, has raised fears of a nuclear disaster. Last week the plant was disconnected from the national power supply for the first time in its history, after an electricity line was cut.

There is hope that the IAEA visit to the site will ease tensions, help scale back military action and afford more freedom of movement within the plant for Ukrainian personnel.

Will the IAEA team be able to get a full picture?

This isn't clear, but experts assume the inspectors will at least gain insight into the plant's safety conditions.

What would help improve the security situation?

Putting an end to all military action on and around the plant, free access to all areas of the site for operating personnel and enabling appropriate maintenance and procurement of spare parts.

An armed and hooded soldier in front of a barbed wire reinforced fence, behind which are reactors 4 and 5
Russian troops have occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant since March 2022Image: ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/REUTERS

What are the prospects of creating a demilitarized zone?

This doesn't look likely so far. Russia has significant technological and operational expertise as it runs 38 nuclear power plants of its own. It has continued to occupy the site despite being aware of the high risk of a serious accident due to fighting. Numerous international appeals for Moscow to rethink its position have not been successful.

Would shutting down all the reactors help?

This would minimize the dangers of a major accident but would have to be decided on the ground. And it can't be achieved immediately: even after a shutdown, the plant will still need a lot of power for some time to cool the total of six reactors in order to prevent a meltdown. After this has occurred, likely a few days after shutdown, the risk of an accident would be reduced.

This article was originally published in German.