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Interview with Tariq Rauf about the fire at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia NPP on the night of March 3 to 4, 2022

Tariq Rauf

For nearly a week, for the first time in nuclear history armed conflict has been underway in a country with operational nuclear power plants, thus creating the potential for catastrophic damage to these nuclear facilities with the real risk of radioactive contamination that could easily be transported by prevailing winds within the country as well as to neighboring countries.

In its latest regular update to the IAEA, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) said it was communicating regularly with the plants and they were continuing to operate safely and securely. Their physical protection systems were in regular mode and the radiation levels at the sites were also normal, it added.

Ukraine has 15 operational nuclear reactors at four sites in the country, providing roughly half of its electricity, which SNRIU reports continue to operate normally. On February 24, the SNRIU Informed the IAEA that “unidentified armed forces” had taken control of the facilities of the State Specialized Enterprise Chornobyl NPP (Nuclear Power Plant), located within the Exclusion Zone. 

Regarding reports of higher radiation measurements at the Chornobyl site, the SNRIU noted that they may have been caused by heavy military vehicles stirring up soil still contaminated from the 1986 accident. The IAEA assessed that the readings reported by the regulator – of up to 9,46 microSieverts per hour – were low and remained within the operational range measured in the Exclusion Zone since it was established, and therefore did not pose any danger to the public.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stated that it was of vital importance that the safe and secure operations of the zone’s nuclear facilities should not be affected or disrupted in any way.

On February 27, the SNRIU informed the IAEA that missiles had hit the site of such a facility in the capital Kyiv, but there was no damage to the building and no reports of a radioactive release. SNRIU noted that all radioactive waste disposal facilities of the State Specialized Enterprise Radon were operating as usual, and the radiation monitoring systems did not indicate any deviations from normal values.

On March 2, Russia informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that its military forces have taken control of the territory around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).

Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today that the site of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) had been shelled overnight and IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi immediately spoke with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal as well as the country’s national nuclear regulator and operator about the serious situation.

The Ukraine regulatory authority said a fire at the site had not affected “essential” equipment and plant personnel were taking mitigatory actions and the fire had been extinguished. There was no reported change in radiation levels at the plant, it said.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi informed the special meeting of the Board of Governors on 2nd March that the three main functions of nuclear safety systems – containment, control and cooling – and stressed that:

  1. The physical integrity of the facilities – whether it is the reactors, fuel ponds or radioactive waste stores – must be maintained.
  2. All safety and security systems and equipment must be fully functional at all times.
  3. The operating staff must be able to fulfil their safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure.
  4. There must be secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites.
  5. There must be uninterrupted logistical supply chains and transportation to and from the sites.
  6. There must be effective on-site and off-site radiation monitoring systems and emergency preparedness and response measures.
  7. And finally, there must be reliable communications with the regulator and others.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) is a key source of information for the international community, via the IAEA. According to IAEA Director General Grossi the ability of the SNRIU to provide “accurate and complete data on the safety and security of the operation of all nuclear facilities in Ukraine should not be interrupted, impeded or influenced.”


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The interview was conducted by Sofya Shestakova, PIR Center intern, March 4, 2022

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