The head of the UN nuclear power watchdog said on Wednesday (Jan 4) his inspectors had been denied entry to parts of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and had yet to receive 2024 maintenance plans for the facility.
The plant was taken by Russia in the days following Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Each side has accused the other of shelling around the station, Europe’s biggest, though its six reactors now produce no power.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said inspectors at the plant had for two weeks had no entry to the main halls of reactors one, two and six.
“This is the first time that IAEA experts have not been granted access to a reactor hall of a unit that was in cold shutdown,” Grossi said in a statement on the IAEA website.
“This is where the reactor core and spent fuel are housed. The team will continue to request this access.”
Inspectors had also been limited in their access to turbine halls at the plant which is situated in southeastern Ukraine, he said.
Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom, said Russia might be attempting to hide the true state of things at the plant.
The country’s nuclear security could only be restored with the de-occupation of the plant and areas nearby, he added in a message on the Telegram app.
Grossi said the plant’s operators had taken action to ensure back-up electricity supplies to the facility for when its main external power line is lost, which he described as a “repeated” event.
Losing its main power source has caused concern as the plant needs power to cool its reactors, even when shut down.
Grossi said the IAEA had asked the plant’s operators for a maintenance schedule for 2024 “which has not yet been provided”.
He has visited the plant three times since the invasion – a complicated undertaking crossing the front lines of the 22-month-old war.
Grossi has frequently called for an end to fighting in the vicinity of the facility to avoid a catastrophic accident.
In his statement, he said IAEA staff had noticed safety standards being upheld at Ukraine’s three other working nuclear stations, though missiles and drones had flown close to two of them – Khmelnytskyi in the west and the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant.