Europe urges fast action on Ukrainian nuclear plants’ safety

March 6, 2022, 8:04 PM UTC

The European Union called for rapid intervention by the International Atomic Energy Agency amid growing concern about the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear plants, two of which have been seized by invading Russian forces.

EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, in a letter to IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, called on Russia to “return all of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities to the full operational and regulatory control of Ukraine, including unhindered access of staff to these facilities, both at Zaporizhzhia as well as in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.”

Missile strikes at the Zaporizhzhia plant, the largest in Europe, and its takeover by the Russian military are unacceptable, Simson said in the March 4 letter seen by Bloomberg.

Ukraine told the IAEA on Sunday that technical operations at the six-reactor Zaporizhzhia plant are subject to Russian military orders and that normal communication with the site is unreliable, Grossi said in a statement. 

French President Emmanuel Macron raised concern after speaking on Sunday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“We are starting work to preserve the integrity of Ukraine’s civil nuclear installations,” he said on Twitter.

While Russia seized the decommissioned Chernobyl plant on Feb. 24, the immediate concern is Zaporizhzhia. The facility in southern Ukraine has a capacity of 5.7 gigawatts, enough to power more than 4 million homes. 

Ukrainian officials said Friday that a fire had broken out at the plant after Russian shelling. The fire was put out and the IAEA said the integrity of the reactors wasn’t compromised. Stocks dropped and commodities rose on the initial reports about the fire. 

Ukrainian power producer DTEK on Sunday called on western countries, NATO and the United Nations to impose no-fly zones over all nuclear plants in the country.

“There is too much at stake to just rely on luck,” chief executive Maxim Timchenko said in a statement. “Humanity survived Chernobyl and Fukushima, but now Russia threatens another disaster of an even greater scale.”

The European nuclear regulators group ENSREG has asked its members to consider providing practical support to their Ukrainian counterpart and is ready to cooperate with the IAEA, Simson said. 

The EU energy chief also criticized “the position of the aggressor state” in the IAEA Board of Governors. Russia is the world’s top exporter of reactors, with projects ongoing in Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, Hungary and Turkey. 

“I find it unacceptable that Russia can continue its privileged role at the IAEA in view of its irresponsible military actions on the ground in Ukraine,” she said.

—With assistance from Jonathan Tirone and James Regan.

Update, March 7, 2022: This article has been updated to reflect the Bloomberg version of the story.

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.