UN nuclear chief, visiting Kyiv, says the Russian-controlled Ukrainian atomic power plant is facing a ‘dangerous situation’ following the smashing of the Kakhova Dam wall.

13 June 2023 By Paul Martin

International Atomic Agency director briefs a single handful of journalists before his crucial trip to the dam.

The largest nuclear power plant in Europe faces a “dangerous situation”, and suggested that the Russians were balking so far at a Ukrainian warning that the final reactor should be completely shut down.

“It’s a very dangerous situation and the IAEA is here to prevent something very bad,” the director-general said. “He also announced he is planning to go to Russia too in the next few days. 

He was speaking on his way to the dam, though his trip there from Kyiv has been delayed by at least a day, probably due to lack of permission from the Russians. He also expressed concern that there could be exchanges of fire around the nuclear plant. He noted that Ukraine has launched what it describes as a counteroffensive, seeking to retake territory occupied by Russia.

Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spoke to journalists in Kyiv. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been repeatedly in the crossfire since Russia launched its war on Ukraine in February 2022 and captured the facility soon afterwards.

Grossi said he had met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss the situation affecting the plant, which grew more serious after the Kakhovka Dam burst in early June (2023). The dam, further down the Dnieper River, helped keep water in a reservoir that cools the plant’s reactors. Ukraine has said Russia blew up the dam. Mosocow says the Ukrainians did it, though analysts say the flood likely disrupted Kyiv’s counteroffensive plans.

Mr Grossi said his international nuclear body could impose no actual punishments on whoever was responsible. “The IAEA is not a sanctioning organisation,” he said.

The level of the reservoir that feeds the plant is dropping “quite steadily”, said Mr Grossi, but added that it didn’t represent an “immediate danger.”

“It is a serious situation because you are limited to the water you have there,” Mr Grossi said. “If there was a break in the gates that contain this water or anything like this, you would really lose all your cooling capacity.”

Ukraine recently said it hoped to put the last functioning reactor into a cold shutdown. That’s a process in which all control rods are inserted into the reactor core to stop the nuclear fission reaction and generation of heat and pressure. Already, five of the plant’s six reactors are in a cold shutdown.

When asked about Ukraine’s plans, Mr Grossi noted that Russia controlled the plant and that it represented “yet again, another unwanted situation deriving from this anomalous situation.” Ukrainian workers still run the plant, though under an armed Russian military presence. The IAEA has a team at the plant, and Mr Grossi said its members would be swapped out during his trip.

Asked about the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Grossi said he was “very concerned” about the plant potentially getting caught again in open warfare.

“There is active combat. So we are worrying that there could be, I mean, obviously mathematically, the possibilities of a hit,” he said.

Grossi stressed the IAEA hadn’t yet “seen any heavy military equipment” from the Russians at the plant when asked about Ukrainian fears the plant could be wired with explosives.

“There shouldn’t be any military equipment or artillery or amounts of ammunition, an amount that could compromise the security of the plant,” Grossi said. “We do not have any indication at this point. But it could not be excluded.”