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Update 193 – Statement by the Director General of the IAEA on the situation in Ukraine

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been informed that 21 natural gas boilers have been installed in an industrial zone near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) as part of additional heating measures during the winter, including in the nearby town of Enerhodar, the general said today. director Rafael Mariano Grossi from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The team of the IAEA Support and Assistance Mission in Zaporizhia (ISAMZ) confirmed that the new gas boilers can provide an additional 57 MW of heating. In addition, all nine mobile diesel boilers, located at the ZNPP, were in operation most days to produce the necessary heating as the fall turns colder before the onset of winter for the power plant and the nearby town of Enerhodar.

The ISAMZ team found out that three large capacity diesel boilers which are located in the Zaporizhzhya Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP) and in the industrial zone are planned to be converted to natural gas in the next month. Additional heating is provided by units 4 and 5 of the ZNPP in hot shutdown, which also produce the steam required for nuclear safety and security activities at the ZNPP, and over 50 mobile boiler rooms located throughout the city of Enerhodar.

Ukraine’s national regulator, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU), issued regulatory orders in June to limit the operation of all six ZNPP units to a cold shutdown state. Blocks 1, 2, 3 and 6 are currently in cold shutdown.

“With the ongoing uncertainty of nuclear safety and the security situation at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, the team will closely monitor the efforts being made to prepare for the difficult coldest months of the year,” said General Manager Grossi. “Our presence remains essential.”

During the past week, a new team of IAEA experts who recently crossed the front line to begin their rotation at ZNPP heard explosions outside the plant almost daily, underscoring the dangers of armed conflict in such close proximity to a nuclear power plant.

The team was informed about the maintenance activities that were carried out in the past days. Pressure testing of the steam generator of block 3 – a necessary procedure after closing reactor vessel, which was open for over 18 months – has been successfully completed and the steam generator is being sealed. The ZNPP informed the IAEA experts today that the primary circuit is being overhauled this week, after which it will undergo a final pressure test.

The ZNPP has also informed the IAEA that in the near future the safety sequence number 1 of Unit 6 will be maintained. Each ZNPP reactor has three separate and independent redundant systems – known as the safety sequences – including unit safety systems, which are usually on standby ready for activation if necessary to maintain security. The maintenance of the other two safety trains was carried out in October.

Over the past week, the team has been informed that maintenance will begin this week on the main unit transformers of units 1, 2 and 3, similar to recently performed on block transformers of blocks 4, 5 and 6.

The IAEA was concerned that some of the maintenance activities carried out on the safety systems of the reactor units may have been incomplete, requiring additional maintenance to be carried out. This was evident in July and August after Unit 4 was shut down following maintenance on safety systems. However, after unit 4 was returned to cold shutdown in August due to a water leak in one of the steam generators, additional maintenance is required to clean the heat exchangers of the unit’s safety systems.

“Due to the ongoing conflict, the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, has not been able to maintain a comprehensive systematic maintenance program, especially due to the reduction of experienced maintenance personnel,” General Manager Grossi said. “Nuclear safety and security remain at risk the longer a plant has reduced levels of trained and experienced personnel. This is not a sustainable situation for Europe’s largest nuclear power plant”.

The IAEA team on site continues to conduct daily tours. On November 7, during a visit to the main control room, emergency control room and electrical room of Unit 3, the team confirmed the cold shutdown status of the unit. The tour of the intervention diesel generators of blocks 1 and 2 was carried out on November 8 and November 10, respectively, IAEA experts also visited the cooling pool and cooling towers of the ZNPP and confirmed the correctness of the isolation doors.

The agency continues to say it needs access to all six turbine halls to assess safety, but on November 10, site experts were again prevented from visiting parts of the Unit 1 turbine hall, after being granted similarly limited access to the Unit 1 turbine halls. 2 and 4 during the tour in October.

During a circling of the site on November 3 and 5, the team did not spot any mines or explosives, including areas where they had been spotted previously.

Outside the site perimeter, the IAEA visited three large diesel fuel storage tanks at the depot. This stored fuel is needed to operate 20 emergency diesel generators at ZNPP for at least 10 days. The depot is also used to supply fuel for mobile diesel boilers. The team was informed about the amount of fuel in the tanks and observed the filling of trucks carrying diesel fuel to the mobile boiler rooms.

Regarding the water used at the site for reactor cooling and other nuclear safety and security functions, ZNPP confirmed that isolation of 11 groundwater wells is underway. Wells supply approx. 250m3/h of cooling water into the sprinkler basins for reactor cooling. Completion of the insulation works is planned by the end of November. The IAEA experts were also informed that the pumps in the boreholes are powered by essential consumers of electricity. In the event of an off-site power outage, IAEA experts were informed that the well pumps could be powered by two shared emergency diesel generators, ensuring availability of cooling water if all off-site power was lost.

The IAEA team on site learned that an emergency ZNPP exercise was planned to be held later in November. The last major exercise in the ZNPP was carried out in November 2021, before the start of the conflict. Since that time, there has been an unprecedented change in the number of ZNPP personnel that could compromise the site’s ability to effectively respond to emergency situations. The agency emphasizes the need to allow the ISAMZ team to observe the upcoming exercise and receive lessons learned during the exercise.

As part of its work at the site, the IAEA continues to collect information on the status and condition of personnel. This includes building an understanding of the training and licensing of operational personnel at the plant according to the regulations of the Russian Federation. IAEA experts visited the ZNPP training center on November 7 and gathered more information about the number of trainers and their training process.

Regarding on-site regulatory functions, the IAEA was also informed last week that Rostekhnadzor, Russia’s nuclear and radiation safety regulatory body, is establishing a more permanent presence at ZNPP with the arrival on site of ZNPP’s head of the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Inspection. The team was informed that the intention is to ensure constant monitoring and regulatory control of the nuclear power plant (NPP), in accordance with Russian state laws, and to issue licenses to employees.

Separately last week, the IAEA conducted successful rotations of its teams at the Chernobyl site, and at the Rivne, Khmelnytskyi and Southern Ukraine nuclear power plants. Each team reported on the safe and secure operations of these nuclear facilities.

An IAEA team at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant observed a plant-wide emergency response exercise on 11 October, noting at the time that the exercise was well planned and executed and that the emergency response arrangements appeared to be effective. During the past week, Agency experts were informed that follow-up activities were carried out after the exercise and that an action plan was drawn up for the identified areas of further improvement, including communication inside and outside the site, fire protection and decontamination.

In addition, during the past week, the IAEA conducted a medical and coordination assistance mission in Ukraine. The team visited the Chernobyl site, the municipal hospital in Slavutič and the local center in Slavutič which provides mental health support for Chernobyl personnel. The team also met with various authorities in Kyiv to discuss coordination and cooperation on overall technical support and assistance to Ukraine, including the mental health support program.

The team noted progress in recent months in various areas affected by the armed conflict thanks to the support provided by the Agency, as well as through other bilateral or multilateral agreements and by national authorities, but noted the difficulties and improvised living conditions of operational staff at the Chernobyl site. The staff is obliged to sleep in adapted living conditions and in poorly ventilated and damp rooms, in rooms that often accommodate six or more people and do not have basic necessities.

“Such a situation takes a toll on the physical and mental health of operational staff and is not sustainable in the long term,” said CEO Grossi.

Also in the past week, the Agency agreed on the 32nd delivery of equipment to Ukraine. The equipment was donated by Canada as part of the IAEA’s Response and Assistance Network, RANET. This delivery was the second delivery of equipment from Canada, and another final delivery is in preparation. With this delivery, the Rivne and Southern Ukraine nuclear power plants, Chernobyl, as well as the Center for Public Health of the Ministry of Health, the State Register of Sources of Ionizing Radiation and Individual Radiation Doses and SNRIU, received personal protective equipment, IT equipment, potassium iodide tablets, first aid kits and the like subjects.

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