Faced with the risk of a nuclear accident at the largest plant in Europe, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, taken by Russians in March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have an exclusively technical mission from Wednesday ( 31). The objective is to avoid a nuclear disaster, like the one in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, for example, when three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors melted.
The autonomous organization, created in 137 within the United Nations, was established to serve “exclusively the peaceful uses of atomic energy” and works to discourage the nuclear use for military purposes. Based in Vienna, it has 137 member countries, among which are all European countries. The agency will enter Ukraine as a neutral entity in the face of the conflict.
“I do not have the role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine, my role is limited”, said IAEA Director Rafael Mariano Grossi, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, during the preparation for the trip to Ukraine. He explains that he will make a technical visit, primarily to diagnose the situation at the site and what the current risks are.
Nevertheless, Grossi says he works for an agreement that establishes that IAEA technicians can stay permanently at the plant, to ensure the safety of the continent.
One of the priorities of the visit is to check the condition of the energy system in Zaporizhzhia, essential for cooling the reactors. In Fukushima, for example, the accident happened because the cooling system did not work. “It is imperative that we go there personally to stabilize the situation”, guarantees Grossi, pointing to the lack of information given by the Russians about the plant since March, which leaves international technicians in the dark.
Risks of accident or nuclear incident
“The installation works, but with difficulties, so, in the current situation, an accident can happen”, reinforces Grossi. “There are interruptions in the electrical system and problems with the fuel used there. An accident can make us go from a green light to a red light quickly. That’s why I’m really worried”, highlights the director of the IAEA.
Since the explosion of Chernobyl, in 1986, in Soviet Ukraine, nuclear safety has been reinforced in the world, with more robust reactors. However, in the face of a war, with Russian soldiers in charge of such an important plant inside the enemy country, there are no security guarantees.
Despite the current infrastructure, the pressure vessel – where uranium is placed – “it was not designed to withstand explosive munitions, such as artillery shells”, says Robin Grimes, professor of materials physics at Imperial College London, in an interview with The Telegraph.
On Monday (), the G7 countries declared “deep concern” about the risk of a nuclear accident and called for “unrestricted IAEA entry”. “Any attempt by Russia to disconnect the power plant from the Ukrainian power grid will be unacceptable”, says the group of the seven richest in the world in a statement.
The G7 also emphasizes that Russian military actions increase the risk. of a nuclear accident or incident and endanger “the population of Ukraine, neighboring states and the international community”.
Also on Monday, the operator of Ukrainian power stations, Energoatom, indicated in the Telegram that there is a risk of fire and radiation leakage. According to the company, the Russians are constantly attacking the plant and its surroundings, in the city of Energodar. From Sunday to Monday, ten inhabitants were injured after the bombing at the site, including four employees.
“The station’s infrastructure was damaged, there are risks of hydrogen and radioactive substances escaping, in addition to a high possibility of fire”, indicates Energoaton. “The station’s Ukrainian employees continue to work heroically, doing everything possible to ensure nuclear and radiological safety, as well as to eliminate the consequences of the damage.”
Risks for IAEA technicians
According to the state power company, the troops Russian companies are “preparing for the arrival of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAA) mission” and “increased pressure on nuclear plant employees to prevent evidence of their crimes at the plant and its use as a military base from being revealed.” “.
Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, on a trip to Stockholm, Sweden, announced the size of the challenge facing the international agency’s technicians in the coming days. “This will be the most difficult mission in the IAEA’s history because of the Russian attacks and the way Russia is trying to legitimize its presence in the region,” warned Kuleba.
Likewise, the IAEA director comments on the concern with security to cross the country and reach Zaporizhzhia. “It’s a long journey. Ukraine is big and it’s necessary to cross it under less than ideal security conditions”, recalls the head of the agency.
“We don’t have armored vehicles and we’ll have to count with the support of United Nations vehicles. It is an operation in which the forces of both sides must work together: at a certain point, we will pass from the hands of the Ukrainians to the hands of the Russians, who control Zaporizhzhia”, anticipates Grossi.