The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) director-general says the condition of safety at Europe’s largest nuclear reactor, which is now under Russian control in Ukraine, is like a ‘red light flashing’ as his organization attempts in vain to gain access to operations, including repairs.
Rafael Grossi, speaking to The Associated Press a day after the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy in 1986, shifted the spotlight to the nuclear facility in Zaporizhzhia. Russian military seized control of that factory as well. Mr. Grossi stated that the IAEA needs access to the Zaporizhzhia facility in southern Ukraine so that its inspectors may, among other things, restore contact with the United Nations agency’s Vienna headquarters. Both Russia and Ukraine must pitch in to make this happen.
‘And all of this isn’t occurring,’ says the plant’s manager. ‘So the scenario, as I’ve characterized it and would reiterate today, is untenable,’ Mr. Grossi added. ‘As a result, this is a pending matter. This is is a blinking red light’. He made the remarks in an interview on Wednesday, a day after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the matter. ‘Understandably, my Ukrainian colleagues do not want IAEA inspectors to visit one of their own installations under the authority of a third nation,’ Mr. Grossi stated. ‘I had a lengthy discussion with President Zelenskyy about this last night, and it will still require discussions. We’re still a long way away.’
The IAEA chairman continues to urge Russia’s authorities for access to the Zaporizhzhia plant. ‘I don’t see any progress in that direction right now,’ he remarked. However, he will meet with the Russian side ‘soon’. ‘As you know, there are two units that are operational, in active operation, and others that are undergoing maintenance or cooling down. And there are various actions, technical activities, as well as inspection operations, that must be completed,’ Mr. Grossi explained.
The conflict has effectively turned sections of Ukraine into a nuclear minefield, with 15 reactors and one of the world’s greatest nuclear power capacity. Since the invasion, nuclear scientists have watched with concern as Russian soldiers have crept dangerously near various nuclear power stations in Ukraine. According to a Chernobyl security worker, the Russians flew planes over the crippled reactor site and dug trenches in extremely radioactive earth. Russian cruise missiles passed over the Khmelnytskyi nuclear power facility in western Ukraine on Monday.
‘There can be no military activity in or around a nuclear power station,’ Mr. Grossi said, adding that he had appealed to Russia on the subject. ‘It is unusual to have a conflict developing within one of the world’s greatest nuclear infrastructures, which, of course, creates a lot of vulnerable or weak places that might, of course, be used wittingly or unintentionally,’ he continued.
Regarding Iran, Mr. Grossi stated that his organization is still attempting to obtain clarification from Tehran on unresolved problems surrounding evidence of man-made enriched uranium at three locations in the nation. Since the breakdown of Tehran’s nuclear deal with international powers, the Islamic Republic and the IAEA have been attempting to address a number of issues, including restoring access to video from surveillance cameras at the country’s nuclear installations.
He also recognized that since the deal’s failure, Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium has grown as it has used more modern centrifuges. Following a possible Israeli strike, Tehran recently relocated a centrifuge workshop to its subterranean Natanz nuclear complex.
‘They are relocating the centrifuge production capability to a location where they believe they will be better protected,’ Mr. Grossi explained. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as US and European backing for Ukraine in the conflict, have heightened tensions between Russia and the West, but he believes it is ‘imperative for us to strive for shared denominators in spite of these challenges.’
‘We can’t afford to stop,’ he added. ‘We have to keep going. It is in the world’s interest, as well as their own, that the nuclear crisis… succeeds. I can’t conceive a geostrategic situation in which additional nuclear weapons and proliferation in the Middle East would benefit anyone or anything’, he said. Iran has always asserted that its nuclear program is benign. However, US intelligence services and the IAEA believe Tehran had a well-organized military nuclear program up until 2003.