In a statement issued on Wednesday 2 March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had been sent an official letter by the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the International Organisations in Vienna saying that Russian forces had taken control of the territory around the Zaporozhe nuclear power plant, the country’s largest facility with six reactors at the site.
The letter also said personnel at the plant continued their “work on providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in normal mode of operation. The radiation levels remain normal.”
Russian forces took control of the Chernobyl site and exclusion zone last week, with the Ukrainian staff on duty at the time continuing to work at the site. The IAEA says that “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site were reported”.
The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, on Wednesday posted 60th birthday greetings to Valentin Geiko, the head of the shift at Chernobyl who, it says, “for the past six days has been in charge of the security of the nuclear facilities at the Russian-military occupied plant. He can’t hand over his shift and can’t leave his post”.
The IAEA has been holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.
Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said, at the opening of the session: “The situation in Ukraine is unprecedented and I continue to be gravely concerned. It is the first time a military conflict is happening amidst the facilities of a large, established nuclear power programme.
“I have called for restraint from all measures or actions that could jeopardise the security of nuclear and other radioactive material, and the safe operation of any nuclear facilities in Ukraine, because any such incident could have severe consequences, aggravating human suffering and causing environmental harm.
“In this context it is also imperative to ensure that the brave people who operate, regulate, inspect and assess the nuclear facilities in Ukraine can continue to do their indispensable jobs safely, unimpeded and without undue pressure.”
In a media conference later on Wednesday, Grossi said that there were on-going and active conversations happening with both sides in Ukraine about how the IAEA could assist.
He said: “Ukraine is a member state of the IAEA, and they are entitled to, and expect to get assistance when there is a problem, in this case related to the safety of their facilities. Obviously in the present circumstances, delivering assistance is not a straightforward or easy process.
“This is why I am in contact with all sides to ascertain in which effective way we could be providing assistance. Since these consultations are on-going I would not be in a position right now to say what kind, or when, this assistance will be delivered.”
Asked about the situation at Zaporozhe, he said he thought Russian forces “are in control of the surrounding area and of the site as well. Which does not mean that they have taken over the plant itself, or the operation of the reactors. They have the physical control of the perimeter, including the village where most of the employees live.”
He also said that ensuring staff at nuclear power plants were well rested was important to minimise the chances of mistakes being made, and this was one area of the agency’s discussions with the two sides.
Meanwhile, in Slovakia, despite its airspace being closed to Russian flights, an exception was agreed to allow an Volga Dnepr Airlines IL76 to fly to Bratislava Airport to deliver nuclear fuel from Russia’s TVEL for use by Slovenske Elektrarne.
In other developments, Members of the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on “the Member States to stop any collaboration with Russia in the nuclear field”.
Also on Wednesday, the 31 Member Countries of the Governing Board of the International Energy Agency (IEA) agreed to release 60 million barrels of oil from their emergency reserves “to send a unified and strong message to global oil markets that there will be no shortfall in supplies as a result of Russia’s military action in Ukraine”.
IEA members hold emergency stockpiles of 1.5 billion barrels. The announcement of an initial release of 60 million barrels, or 4% of those stockpiles, is the fourth coordinated drawdown in the history of the IEA, which was created in 1974. The others were in 2011, 2005 and 1991.