Delayed rotation of IAEA experts at Zaporizhzhia takes place

03 March 2023

The changeover of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) staff at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has taken place, following a month-long delay, with the experts having to make part of the journey across the frontline by foot.

The IAEA experts had to travel by foot for part of the journey (Image: Video grab from Twitter @rafaelmgrossi)

The IAEA staff have to cross the front line of the Russian and Ukrainian forces to get to and from the six unit nuclear power plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces for the past year. The delay to the latest staff changeover came amid reports from the IAEA of an increase in shelling in the area in recent weeks.

Ukraine's Energoatom said the delays to the rotation had been caused by the Russian side. The Russian side rejects those claims and Renat Karchaa, adviser to Rosenergoatom, was quoted by Tass as saying its security staff involved in the handover had come under fire and that a number of mines had had to be defused along the route.

Director General Rafael Mariano Gossi said he was "incredibly proud" of the IAEA team in a Twitter post also featuring a video showing part of the journey they had to make by foot.

In the IAEA's statement announcing the successful rotation of staff, Grossi did not make mention of any security issues during the handover, but "thanked all parties involved for their constructive efforts to end the rotation deadlock ... which followed an increase in military activity in the region".

Grossi said the successful rotation was of major importance for the future of the IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ), established six months ago with the aim of conducting nuclear safety and security activities at the site.

Grossi said: "The permanent presence of ISAMZ ... is indispensable to help reduce the risk of a nuclear accident during this already so devastating war. Our courageous experts - working closely with the plant’s operating staff - are providing technical advice and monitoring the situation in extremely difficult and challenging circumstances. I’m deeply grateful for all the important work they are doing and for their professionalism and commitment to nuclear safety and security. The team leaving today has stayed several weeks longer than expected, and the new team has been waiting in Ukraine for a number of weeks and is committed to fulfilling its original mission."

Zaporizhzhia has lost its last 330kV back-up power line three times in the past week, the latest being on Wednesday when it was disconnected "likely because of shelling on the other side of the Dnipro river", the ISAMZ team reported.

Grossi says he will continue his long-running efforts to establish a safety and security zone at and around the plant. And the IAEA teams of experts stationed at Ukraine's three other nuclear power plants are also rotating their staff this week. 

Researched and written by World Nuclear News