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Russian troops plant mines along Zaporizhzhia NPP perimeter, IAEA reveals

Mines, once removed in November 2023, resurface in the plant’s buffer zone, exacerbating concerns at Europe’s largest nuclear facility.
Russian troops stand near the Zaporizhzhia NPP
Russian soldier stands near the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Illustrative photo: Energoatom

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Russian troops have reinstalled mines along the perimeter of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast, signaling ongoing safety and security challenges at the facility.

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in Europe, has been under Russian occupation since 4 March 2022, but it keeps working.

These mines, located in the buffer zone between the plant’s internal and external fences, were initially identified by the IAEA team and subsequently removed in November 2023 but have now been reinstalled.

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the IAEA expressed concern over this development, emphasizing that the presence of mines contradicts IAEA safety standards. This area is restricted and not accessible to operational plant personnel.

What’s the worst that can happen at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant? Four scenarios

The ZNPP recently experienced a significant power supply issue, losing its immediate backup power to reactor units for several hours. This incident underscored the plant’s vulnerability regarding external power availability, which is essential for cooling its six reactors and other critical safety functions. The plant’s backup power was eventually restored. Still, the incident highlighted the fragility of the power supply system, which has been reduced from ten lines to just two since the conflict began.

“The plant’s vulnerable power status remains one of the main dangers for nuclear safety and security at the site. The situation remains extremely worrying in this respect. The site has already lost all off-site power eight times since August 2022, forcing it to rely on emergency diesel generators,” Director General Grossi said.

In terms of maintenance, the ZNPP has informed the IAEA about its 2024 maintenance plan, prioritizing the site’s safety systems and activities deferred from the previous year. However, the IAEA team has not received a detailed copy of this plan for review. Based on available information, the IAEA concludes that the ZNPP will not implement a comprehensive maintenance plan in 2024. Grossi emphasized the importance of a robust maintenance plan for ensuring plant safety, especially with the extended shutdown of the reactors.

The IAEA continues to monitor other aspects of the ZNPP, including boric acid levels in unit 6’s safety systems and staffing levels in the control rooms, although they could not inquire about staff qualifications. The experts are also seeking further access to reactor and turbine halls and reactor rooftops to fully assess the plant’s safety.

Besides ZNPP, IAEA teams at Rivne, Khmelnytskyi, and South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plants, as well as the Chornobyl site, report that nuclear safety and security are maintained despite frequent air raid alarms and some instances requiring personnel to take shelter.

Russia’s occupation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP: Background

  • Russia occupied the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, in the first month of its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
  • Russian forces have reportedly mined the cooling system of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and prepared explosives near the plant’s nuclear reactors, raising concerns about a potential attack.
  • There have been allegations that Russia launched an algorithm to trigger a nuclear disaster at the plant.
  • Ukraine made a secret and unsuccessful attempt to retake the Zaporizhzhia NPP.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has sought expanded access to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

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