IAEA Visit to Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant Highlights Risks
THE HAGUE, Netherlands
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are used to risky assignments – from the radioactive aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster to Iran’s politically charged nuclear program. But their deployment amid Ukraine’s war in Zaporizhzhia takes the threat to a new level and underscores the organization’s efforts to try to avert a potentially catastrophic nuclear catastrophe.
The 6-month war sparked by Russia’s invasion of its western neighbor forces international organizations, not just the IAEA, to deploy teams during active hostilities in their efforts to impose order around Ukraine’s nuclear power plants , prosecute responsibility for war crimes and identify the dead .
“This is not the first time that an IAEA team has found itself in a situation of armed hostilities,” said Tariq Rauf, the organization’s former head of verification and security, noting that the he IAEA sent inspectors to Iraq in 2003 and to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. during the fights. “But this situation in Zaporizhzhia, I think it’s the most serious situation the IAEA has ever sent people into, so it’s unprecedented.”
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi highlighted the risks on Thursday when he led a team at the sprawling factory in southern Ukraine.
“There were times when the fire was obvious – heavy machine guns, artillery, mortars two or three times were really very concerning, I would say, to all of us,” he said of the his team’s journey through an active war zone to reach the plant.
Speaking to reporters after letting colleagues inside, he said the agency ‘won’t move’ from the factory from now on and promised a ‘continuous presence’ of agency experts .
But it remains to be seen exactly what the organization can accomplish.
“The IAEA cannot force a country to implement or enforce nuclear safety and security standards,” Rauf said in a phone interview. “They can only advise and then it’s up to…the state itself,” particularly the national nuclear regulator. In Ukraine, this is further complicated by the Russian occupation of the power plant.
The IAEA is not the only international organization seeking to locate personnel permanently in Ukraine amid the ongoing war.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan has visited Ukraine three times, set up an office in the country and sent investigators to a conflict zone to collect evidence amid numerous reports of atrocities. National governments, including the Netherlands, sent expert investigators to help the court.
Khan told a United Nations meeting in April: “This is a time when we have to mobilize the law and send it into battle, not on Ukraine’s side against the Russian Federation or on the side of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, but on the side of the side of humanity to protect, preserve, protect people… who have certain basic rights.
The International Commission on Missing Persons, which uses a high-tech lab in The Hague to help countries trying to identify the bodies, has already sent three missions to Ukraine and set up an office there.
Grossi, an Argentine diplomat, was previously a senior official of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an organization which, after his departure, was also forced to send inspectors to conflicts.
In April 2018, an OPCW team sent to collect evidence of a suspected chlorine attack in Douma, Syria, was forced to wait in a hotel for days due to security concerns in the city, which was at the time under the protection of the Russian military police. .
When a UN security team traveled to Douma, gunmen fired on them and detonated an explosive, further delaying the OPCW fact-finding mission.
The IAEA’s largest operation to monitor a country’s nuclear program is Iran, where it has been the primary arbiter in determining the size, scope and aspects of Tehran’s program during decades of tensions at its topic. Since Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, the IAEA has had surveillance cameras and physical inspections of Iranian sites, even as questions persist about Iran’s military nuclear program, which, according to the agency, ended in 2003.
But this monitoring has not been easy. Since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal in 2018, Iran has blocked the IAEA from accessing footage from its surveillance cameras. Other online surveillance devices were also affected.
In 2019, Iran alleged that an IAEA inspector tested positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates while attempting to visit Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility. The IAEA strongly disputed Iran’s description of the incident, as did the United States.
Another risky and difficult mission took place in the aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. About two weeks after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused reactor meltdowns and hydrogen explosions in reactor buildings, the IAEA sent experts to monitor radiation, sample soil and check food safety, but they largely remained outside the factory. They later returned with full hazmat suits, masks, gloves, and helmets to inspect the remains of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The situation in Zaporizhzhia, with Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of bombing the region, has the potential to be equally devastating.
“Whenever a nuclear power plant is in the midst of armed hostilities, bombings on and near its territory create unacceptable risks,” Rauf said. “So, you know, any missed shell could hit one of the reactors or disable a system which can have far greater consequences.”
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
This story was originally published September 3, 2022 2:30 a.m.