The conflict in Ukraine could put the safety of nuclear facilities there at risk, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned on Wednesday.
Addressing an emergency meeting of the agency’s Board of Governors, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi revealed that he remains gravely concerned over the “unprecedented situation” in the country.
“It is the first time a military conflict is happening amidst the facilities of a large, established nuclear power programme, which in this case also include the site of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant,” he said.
Request for help
Ukrainian regulatory authorities have written to the UN-backed atomic watchdog to request assistance to ensure the safety of the Chernobyl plant and other nuclear facilities in the country.
Mr. Grossi called for restraint from any actions that could jeopardize the security of nuclear facilities, and nuclear and radioactive material, as “any such incident could have severe consequences, aggravating human suffering and causing environmental harm.”
The IAEA has been monitoring the situation in Ukraine since the start of the Russian military offensive on 24 February.
Sites ‘operating normally’
The four nuclear power plants that produce half the country’s energy are “operating normally”, said Mr. Grossi.
He reported that Russia informed the agency on Tuesday that it had taken control of the territory around the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in Ukraine.
Six of the country’s 15 operational nuclear power reactors are housed there.
“It is of critical importance that the armed conflict and activities on the ground around Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and any other of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, in no way interrupts or endangers the facilities or the people working at and around them,” said Mr. Grossi.
Russian forces have also taken control of all facilities of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located within the deserted exclusion zone. No casualties or destruction were reported.
“While increased levels of radiation were initially measured at the site, likely due to the movement of heavy military vehicles disturbing the soil, the IAEA assessed that they remained low enough not to pose a hazard to the public,” said Mr. Grossi.
Potential severe consequences
Earlier this week, Russian missiles hit the site of a radioactive waste disposal facility in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. No damage was reported and there were no indications of radioactive release.
Prior to this, an electrical transformer at a similar disposal facility near Kharkiv, located in the northeast, suffered damage, with no reports of radioactive release.
“The two incidents highlight the risk that facilities with radioactive material may suffer damage during the armed conflict, with potentially severe consequences,” said Mr. Grossi.
He added that “the best action to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and its people would be for this armed conflict to end now.”