Russian-Occupied Nuclear Plant: Intl Community Must Step Up Surveillance to Ensure Safety

An attack on a nuclear power plant is an extremely dangerous act that could result in catastrophe. The international community must strengthen its warnings and surveillance.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which is occupied by Russia, was attacked by drones earlier this month. The IAEA expressed concern, saying the world is “getting dangerously close to a nuclear accident.”

In addition to damage to the plant’s roof, there were reportedly human casualties. While Russia claims the attack was from Ukraine, Ukraine denies any involvement.

An attack on a nuclear power plant is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. It goes without saying that such acts are unacceptable. Both Russia and Ukraine must avoid military actions that endanger nuclear power plants.

It is also essential to improve management of such plants.

The Zaporizhzhia plant is the largest in Europe, and all six reactors are currently out of operation. Cooled by an external power supply, they have been in a state of cold shutdown, with the internal temperature below 100 C.

The IAEA’s standards for safe management of nuclear plants require that there be an external power source and engineers on hand. The risk is low at the Zaporizhzhia plant if engineers properly manage the plant and continue to cool the reactors and spent nuclear fuel.

However, immediately after its aggression against Ukraine, Russia occupied the plant, stationed its troops and brought in weapons and ammunition there. The aim may be to try to intimidate Ukraine by fortifying the plant, which stores a large amount of nuclear fuel.

As Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its occupation of the nuclear power plant have become prolonged, the plant’s management has fallen into a precarious situation.

Many of the transmission lines that supply power to the plant from the outside have been destroyed so that now there is only one connection left, down from 10. There is also only one backup transmission line. Even if the emergency diesel generator is included, it is hard to call this sufficient.

Including Ukrainian engineers and staff sent by Russia, there are now around 5,000 people managing the plant, less than half of the 11,500 who were there before Russia’s occupation.

The departure of Ukrainian engineers who were experts on the facility is of particular concern.

If Russia continues to manage the plant in this way, the risk of an accident will only increase.

The IAEA has stationed observers at the plant. To keep the plant safe, it should consider increasing the number of staff, among other steps. It is important for the international community, including Japan, to persistently remind Russia that an accident at the plant could be irreversible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 19, 2024)