When the Russian military took over the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant following its invasion of Ukraine, one of the primary concerns was whether troop movements and fighting would unleash radiation.
But while no elevated radiation has been reported in the immediate aftermath of the disaster site and nuclear power plant being captured, the International Atomic Energy Agency no longer has data transmission from the sites. In short, it’s even harder to monitor nuclear safety from the outside.
"The Agency is looking into the status of safeguards monitoring systems in other locations in Ukraine and will provide further information soon," the IAEA said in a statement, referring to technical protocol it takes to deter the spread of nuclear weapons and contamination. The IAEA did not immediately return Protocol’s request for comment.
Monitoring radiation levels has become an increasing concern since the Russian military invasion. Staff and a network of sensors are on site at Chernobyl, a former power plant that's home to the worst nuclear disaster in history, and Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, to keep track of radiation. But they have been taken hostage and working conditions at the plants have worsened. Workers at Zaporizhzhia are reportedly in “very bad psychological conditions,” according to Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state-owned atomic energy firm Energoatom. Staff at Chernobyl haven’t left the plant for about two weeks.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that staff need to be able to rest and work in regular shifts to properly operate nuclear facilities.
“I’m deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety,” Grossi said. “I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there.”
Chernobyl also lost power Wednesday morning local time, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine wrote in a Facebook post. Emergency diesel generators were activated, and they can supply electricity for about 48 hours. But disruption in the area “makes it impossible” to control nuclear and radiation security parameters, the agency said. While there's no risk of a meltdown at Chernobyl, the site still poses a risk if safeguards fail due to lack of power or increased fighting in the area.
“Already two weeks the Chornobyl NPP personnel has been courageously and heroically performing their functions without rotation to ensure the safe operation of the facilities,” the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine wrote.Last week, the Ukrainian government demanded that the United Nations boot Russia from a number of advisory bodies, including those dealing with nuclear waste. The government pointed to the shelling at Zaporizhzhia, which sparked a fire at the power plant (though thankfully no radiation was released), as well as taking over the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which is home to hazardous nuclear waste. It said the Chernobyl invasion “has jeopardized international environmental security as a whole.” That claim pales in comparison to what the government said about what’s happening at Zaporizhzhia, an active nuclear power plant. Any issues there, the government said, could be “a threat to nuclear and radiation safety of the whole world.”