Security & Safety

Ukraine / As IAEA Chief Heads For Talks, WANO Says It Supports ‘Immediate Establishment’ Of Nuclear Safety Framework

By David Dalton
10 March 2022

Safety group concerned about ‘factors that may challenge high standards of operation’
As IAEA Chief Heads For Talks, WANO Says It Supports ‘Immediate Establishment’ Of Nuclear Safety Framework
Rafael Grossi said he hopes to make progress on the urgent issue of ensuring the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. Courtesy IAEA.
The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) said it supports the immediate establishment of a nuclear safety framework at all nuclear facilities in Ukraine that ensures the seven pillars of nuclear safety and security are achieved and maintained.

The safety group’s announcement came as Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, flew on Thursday to the Turkish city of Antalya where met the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine. Mr Grossi was scheduled to hold a press conference on his return to Vienna on Thursday evening.

“In meetings there, I hope to make progress on the urgent issue of ensuring the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. We need to act now,” Mr Grossi said in a statement. 

WANO said in a statement there can be no interference of any kind with Ukrainian member operators’ ability to safely perform their work.

The group’s performance objectives and criteria and safety principles provide high standards to guide nuclear plant operators worldwide on safe nuclear facility operation. “WANO is concerned about factors in the current situation that may challenge these high standards of operation,” it said.

Those factors include staff at Ukraine’s nuclear plants not readily being rested, and under great stress, difficulties in providing supplies to stations, risk of inadequate supply of electricity for stations due to loss of offsite power, and fuel supply for long-term operation of emergency diesel generators

WANO also cited possible “external pressure” that could jeopardise decision making and weakened or disrupted communication lines with the regulator and support organisations such as the IAEA and WANO.

WANO said it has extensive data on nuclear power plant operations, and a well-established network for the sharing of operating experience and coordinating support among the world’s nuclear operators.

“There must continue to be ready access by Ukraine plant operators to these resources, and the availability of support from the global nuclear industry if needed,” it said.

The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) also said it fully supports the proposals made by Mr Grossi to ensure that the seven indispensable pillars of nuclear security and safety are maintained in Ukraine.

The seven pillars are:

1. The physical integrity of the facilities – whether it is the reactors, fuel ponds, or radioactive waste stores – must be maintained;

2. All safety and security systems and equipment must be fully functional at all times;

3. The operating staff must be able to fulfil their safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure;

4. There must be secure offsite power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites;

5. There must be uninterrupted logistical supply chains and transportation to and from the sites;

6. There must be effective on-site and off-site radiation monitoring systems and emergency preparedness and response measures; and

7. There must be reliable communications with the regulator and others.

Ukraine told the IAEA on Wednesday that the Chernobyl nuclear power station had been disconnected from the electricity grid and lost its supply of external power, two weeks after Russian forces took control of the site of the 1986 accident.

Mr Grossi expressed “deep concern” about this development as the “secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites” was one of the seven pillars of nuclear safety and security.

In another development, Mr Grossi said the IAEA in recent days had lost remote data transmission from its safeguards systems installed to monitor nuclear material at Chernobyl and another Ukrainian nuclear power station now controlled by Russian forces, the six-unit Zaporizhzhya facility. He said he was concerned about the sudden interruption of such data flows to the IAEA’s Vienna headquarters from the two sites, where large amounts of nuclear material are present in the form of spent or fresh nuclear fuel and other types of nuclear material.

The IAEA said the reason for the disruption in the transmission of safeguards data was not immediately clear. The agency continues to receive such data from other nuclear facilities in Ukraine, including the three other nuclear power stations – Rovno, Khmelnitski and South Ukraine.

Russian forces now control the management of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear station and the approval of technical decisions made by the Ukrainian operators. Mr Grossi said this is not a safe way to run a nuclear power plant.

China's ambassador to the UN urged those concerned to act with caution and work together to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities inside Ukraine.

“China is paying close attention to the latest developments in Ukraine, and expresses our concerns over the relevant reports about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the UN, told a Security Council briefing on the safety of nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

Ukraine has 15 commercial nuclear power units. State nuclear operator Energoatom said eight units are in operation including two at Zaporizhzhia. The rest are either shut down for scheduled maintenance or being held in reserve.

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