Amid Growing Safety Concerns, Delegates Stress Urgency of Allowing Technical Experts to Conduct Security, Safeguard Mission
The situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has deteriorated rapidly to the point of becoming “very alarming”, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi warned the Security Council today, in a meeting requested by the Russian Federation and marked by resounding calls to allow the Agency’s technical experts to visit the area to address mounting safety concerns.
“These military actions near such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences,” Mr. Grossi said, stressing that the Agency has been in frequent contact with both Ukraine and the Russian Federation to ensure it has the clearest picture possible of the evolving circumstances.
Providing an overview of events, he said that, on 5 August, the Zaporizhzhia plant — Europe’s largest — was subjected to shelling, resulting in several explosions near the electrical switchboard, and causing a power shutdown. One reactor unit was disconnected from the electrical grid, triggering its emergency protection system and setting generators into operation to ensure power supply. There was also shelling in a nitrogen-oxygen station. While firefighters extinguished the blaze, he said repairs must be assessed and evaluated.
While IAEA experts’ preliminary assessment indicated that there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of the shelling or other military actions, “this could change at any moment”, he said.
He recalled the seven indispensable pillars that are critical for nuclear safety and security, including aspects dealing with the physical integrity of the plant, off-site power supply, cooling systems and emergency preparedness systems and measures. “All these pillars have been compromised if not entirely violated at one point or another during this crisis,” he observed.
Preventing nuclear catastrophe must be a collective, overarching goal. He asked both sides to cooperate with IAEA. “This is a serious hour, a grave hour and the IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission in Zaporizhzhia as soon as possible.”
In the ensuing debate, delegates around the Chamber table reinforced the urgent need for IAEA to conduct a safety, security and safeguard mission to the site, a charge that Gabon’s delegate described as “more urgent than ever”. She called on the sides to seize the momentum from the recent grain export agreement to engage in ceasefire negotiations. Some delegates, including from Albania, Ireland and the United Kingdom, said the security around Zaporizhzhia would not be a concern were it not for the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine.
Outlining his case, the Russian Federation’s delegate said Ukrainian forces used heavy artillery against Zaporizhzhia on 5 August, shelling the plant during a shift change to intimidate staff — their own citizens. On 6 August, these forces attacked with cluster munitions, and on 7 August, a power surge occurred. He blamed Kyiv for refusing to sign a trilateral document issued by IAEA, stressing that the Russian Federation is strictly complying with the IAEA Director General’s seven principles.
In turn, Ukraine’s representative said the withdrawal of Russian troops and return of the station to the legitimate control of Ukraine is the only way to remove the nuclear threat at Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine has insisted on the need to send a mission to the site and has negotiated modalities with the Agency. “Despite their public declarations, the occupiers have resorted to manipulations and unjustified conditions for the site visit,” he said. Given the militarization of the site by Russian armed forces, such a mission must include qualified experts in military aspects.
“It is especially galling that the Russian Federation’s actions are taking place during the ongoing [tenth] Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” said the United States delegate, one of several calling on the Russian Federation to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, to cease all military operations at or near its facilities and to return full control of Zaporizhzhia to Ukraine.
China’s delegate meanwhile noted that the IAEA Director General has been planning to visit Zaporizhzhia, and Secretary-General António Guterres has issued an appeal for that purpose. He cited a message from Ukraine to Mr. Grossi and the Secretary-General on 9 August underscoring the necessity of that visit, and expressed hope that any obstacles can be cleared to facilitate that mission.
Also speaking today were representatives of Ghana, United Arab Emirates, Norway, Brazil, India, Kenya, France and Mexico.
The representatives of the Russian Federation, United States and United Kingdom took the floor a second time, as did the IAEA Director General.
The meeting began at 3:01 p.m. and ended at 4:55 p.m.