War in Ukraine: what does the “violation of the physical integrity of the Zaporijjia nuclear power plant” mentioned by the director of the IAEA mean? – franceinfo

The hour of the first conclusions has come. At the end of the first day of inspection of the Zaporijjia nuclear power plant occupied by Russian forces, the director of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, estimated on Thursday 1 September that “the physical integrity of the plant [avait] been raped several times”, without giving further details. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency simply said that his teams in Ukraine did not have “elements to assess this”, but that it was “something that [pouvait] continue to happen.” His statement comes as Europe’s most powerful power station is at the heart of a communications war between Russia and Ukraine, who accuse each other of bombings on and around the power station. Moscow has also judged “very positive” that the IAEA was able to visit the site. For its part, the Ukrainian operator of the plant, Energoatom, judges that “the Russian occupiers are doing everything possible to prevent the mission from the IAEA to know the facts on the ground”. Asked by franceinfo, Karine Herviou, Deputy Director General of the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), tries to decipher Rafael Grossi’s sentence. According to her, the boss of the IAEA refers to certain specific areas of the Zapoijjia site when referring to a violation of “the physical integrity of the plant”. Areas “which contain radioactive materials such as dry storage buildings, fuel assemblies spent (uranium already spent in the reactor) or those from the treatment of radioactive waste”, she specifies. The director of the AEIA, whose mission must focus on “going around the installations and checking the backup systems, making sure that they have been tested”, according to Karine Herviou, gave some details on the work of its teams, extended until “Sunday or Monday”. The first step is to ensure that the physical integrity of the facilities is maintained, in particular at the level of the reactors and the spent fuel storage pools. This priority is actually the first pillar of nuclear power plant safety and security, as defined by the IAEA. “We were able to visit the whole site. I was in the units [de réacteurs], I saw the emergency system and other rooms, the control rooms”, explained Rafael Grossi. He also greeted the Ukrainian personnel still present at the plant which fell into the hands of Russian soldiers in March. AEIA also hopes to “maintain a permanent presence on the site”, in particular to work on the supply of electricity to the Zaporizhia power plant. This element is highly important since it ensures the cooling of the reactors. Last week, precisely, the plant was disconnected from the power grid for a few hours, forcing the six reactors (two are still in operation) to use their emergency protection systems with generators.Therefore, the violation of the integrity of the plant referred to by the director of the AEIA “may also be related to the power supply”, agrees Karine Herviou. However, “no abnormal increase in radioactivity has been observed in Zaporijjia”, reassures the a Deputy Director General of IRSN. The International Atomic Energy Agency identifies six other pillars of safety and security of a nuclear power plant, in addition to the physical integrity of the installations mentioned by its director. This is to ensure that the security systems are functional, that the staff works without pressure or that the plant has an off-site power supply that operates in a secure manner. Maintaining a continuous supply chain, radiation monitoring and site communication with authorities complete this picture. At the beginning of August, the agency judged that five of these seven pillars were no longer respected in the Zaporijjia power plant.