Meet the inspectors on their way to Ukraine’s nuclear power plant | Pro IQRA News

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They bravely go to a place that has been visited many times before – but now in a blood-curdling context.

A team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to visit an occupied Ukrainian nuclear plant on the front line of the war with Russia on Wednesday. and reporting on the condition and safety of nuclear facilities.

One piece of kit – a green jacket – will be less familiar.

If all goes according to plan, they will begin inventorying the Russian-held facility in March, inspecting shell damage and assessing the safety of Ukrainian personnel within days.

But the inspection team will be unable to do what is most urgently needed: an end to hostilities near Europe’s largest nuclear plant, which produces a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity.

“It’s not like they have a C-130 (military plane) with a bunch of Gatling guns on it,” said Ed Waller, a nuclear safety and security expert at Ontario Technical University in Oshawa. “They don’t provide this kind of service. They were never meant to do that.”

The group reportedly includes nuclear security experts from Poland, Lithuania, Serbia, China, France, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, Albania and North Macedonia. (Representatives of Russia and Ukraine, as well as Kiev’s American and British patrons, are notably absent.)

They arrived in the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday, greeted by a war of words and a wave of military activity that could yet jeopardize their mission.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of shelling the corridors created to reach Enerhodar, the site of the Nuclear Power Plant, as well as the area of ​​the six-reactor plant, located 700 kilometers southeast of Kiev.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said, “These are Russian provocations.” He wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Rogov, a member of Russia’s civil-military administration in Zaporizhzhya, accused the Ukrainians of firing around the nuclear plant early Tuesday morning.

“Large-caliber artillery was used. As a result, two ruptures were recorded near the spent fuel storage building,” he wrote on Telegram, posting photos of the roof of the building near Reactor No. 2 in Zaporozhye, claiming that it was pierced by Ukrainian munitions. cannot be independently verified.

Rogov wrote: “The reason for throwing the marble is that the Kyiv leadership intends to disrupt the mission of the IAEA.”

In short, the IAEA inspection team will be the first civilians to take a neutral look at what is, by any standard, an incredibly dangerous mess.

If Russia and Ukraine played with fire, it could go out or burn itself out. If radiation is released in a country that endured the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, it is completely different from an atomic target that can kill or sicken a part of the population and the firepower directed towards it.

“A civilian nuclear power plant could never exist under these circumstances,” says Akira Tokuhiro, an expert in nuclear design, engineering and safety at the Ontario University of Technology.

“It’s a safe area in some respects, but not for a military attack… The concrete is quite thick, but the military weapons are such that they can penetrate the concrete.”

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, who headed the inspection mission, explained the basics of nuclear safety that must be maintained in Zaporozhye.

Among them: ensuring the physical integrity of the nuclear plant; continuous operation of security systems and security equipment; secure power supply; non-stop transport routes; and reliable communication.

But it may be the last two pillars that are most important: radiation monitoring on and off the ground, so the world has reliable, independent information about what’s happening at the disputed facility; and an assurance that the Ukrainian operators still working in Zaporizhzhya—it’s unclear how many remain—are free to make decisions guided by science rather than geopolitics.

“It’s very concerning,” said Steven Arndt, president of the American Nuclear Society. “There are more colorful adjectives, but ‘disturbing’ is really the best way to describe my emotions.”

Arndt visited Ukraine in the 1990s to help the country establish nuclear regulations after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has been at the Zaporizhzhya plant, which has supplied the country with electricity since 1985.

“Waging war around any major industrial facility, especially a nuclear plant, is absolutely abhorrent to the basic principles of good science and good regulation,” he said.

The inspectors and experts participating in the Zaporizhzhya mission are among the scientific elite of the nuclear industry.

The IAEA has a total list of about 400 safety inspectors, who declined an interview request. Primarily physicists, chemists and engineers, they have many years of experience in the nuclear field, as well as special expertise in working with safeguards as they know the agreed technical measures to ensure nuclear safety, security and accountability.

The UN nuclear watchdog receives about 250 applications each year for 15 to 25 available positions. After being hired and trained, security inspectors spend most of their time at airports, hotels and vehicles, traveling to remote power plants, uranium mines, enrichment facilities, nuclear reactors and waste sites, traveling about a third of the year, the IAEA’s public information office said in 2016. according to the article of

The mission is led by Argentine diplomat Grossi, who has worked for decades on nuclear disarmament, the prohibition of chemical weapons, and now on nuclear security. He is a 61-year-old father of eight who speaks as much with his facial expressions and hands as with his mouth – a man critics suggest sees the Zaporizhia standoff as a potentially career-defining moment.

His deputies are Lydi Evrard, former head of France’s nuclear safety regulator, who now heads the IAEA’s nuclear safety and security department, and Massimo Aparo, an Italian nuclear scientist who heads the IAEA’s safeguards department.

Romanian Florian Baciu, another member of the 14-member team, heads the agency’s Incident and Emergency Response Center.

On Monday, the team arrived at the VIP terminal at Vienna airport, where the IAEA is located, got their mission uniforms — baby blue golf shirts, baseball caps and sleeveless Helly Hansen vests with zippered tags — and set off. their tender journey.

Photos of the departure show the inspection team boarding a private plane to Kyiv.

“The extent of Russia’s control over the reactor may affect the IAEA’s output because the IAEA has an agreement with the government of Ukraine on safeguards covering the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant, but not with the government of Russia,” the agency said in a written response. questions. “Furthermore, military activity near the plant may affect IAEA security and access, so the scope and duration of the inspection may be adjusted due to additional external restrictions.”

Ontario Tech’s Tokuhiro said the inspection team will bring radiation monitoring and telecommunications equipment that they may want to connect to a satellite or network not under the control of either Russia or Ukraine, so they can be sure of independent data.

But the team’s main concern will be to find and repair the damage six months of war have caused to the facility’s structure, power sources and security systems.

“The reactor itself is quite large. Pipelines and wires, less so,” said Tokuhiro. “To put it very simply, there will be pipes and wires that are not protected enough to be damaged.”

Last week, the Zaporizhzhya plant was forced to rely on emergency diesel generators when the last of four external power lines — which both transmit power to homes and factories and power the plant’s security systems — temporarily went offline. Three more power lines were damaged during the conflict.

Waller said it is likely that there will be an accounting and inventory of nuclear materials, including spent fuel.

Canadian reactors, for example, have cameras to monitor the plant’s dry fuel storage area and seals to ensure containment drums are not stolen or tampered with. The IAEA also has its own cameras and monitoring devices that provide direct data to the agency’s base in Vienna.

Part of the inspection will include both ensuring the proper functioning of IAEA equipment, while the other will include checking data stored only at the Zaporizhzhya facility.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator, said earlier this month that Russian shelling had damaged three radiation monitoring sensors located near an open section of the plant that holds 174 dry fuel tanks. During the incident, one of the Ukrainian employees of the plant was hospitalized with shrapnel wounds.

Waller said the inspection team will try to ensure that the pillars of nuclear security that Grossi put in place at the start of the conflict are still in place, or alternatively, to determine which pillars have cracked, collapsed or turned to dust as a result of the war.

“You have a bunch of operators under pressure from Ukraine and God knows what else,” he said. “There are a bunch of Russians there who shouldn’t be there at all. You have a regulator with no control over the plant and the IAEA can’t do anything about it.

“How does having them in an occupied nuclear plant make us safer?” It’s not like they parachute in and fix things.”

However, they may bring with them vital supplies such as replacement sensors for damaged sensors and advice on how best to carry out necessary repairs and operations on the front lines of Europe’s largest conflict since World War II. World War.

For many nervous nuclear experts, the answer to this last question has a simple answer: create a buffer zone around the Zaporozhye plant, a 30-kilometer demilitarized zone around the facility where hostilities do not occur.

“You should not have military formations for either side near that facility,” Arndt said. “It creates huge challenges for individual operators of that plant, competing resources, all kinds of things.”

For Tokuhiro, blaming both Ukraine and Russia for the damage to the facility is less important than agreeing to the creation of a safe and independently controlled area around the energy-producing city of Enerhodar. but now held hostage by war.

“If you’re a kid and you see your mom and dad fighting, do you take sides?” Tokuhiro asked, “or do you just want them to stop?”

Allan Woods is a contributor to the Montreal-based Star newspaper. It covers global and national issues. Follow him on Twitter: @WoodsAllan

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