Europe’s largest nuclear power plant ZaporizhiaThe factory is located in Russian-occupied Ukraine and has been under repeated shelling since March.
The situation is closely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog tasked with ensuring that nuclear facilities are safe and that nuclear material is used only for peaceful purposes. Executive Director Rafael Mariano Grossi recently visited the site.
Grossi told Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes this week. “Because this place is on the front line, the whole thing becomes very unstable and requires urgent action.”
Before the war, this power plant supplied 20% of Ukraine’s electricity. Although it is rarely used now, the reactor must be constantly cooled with circulating water. If they overheat, they can lead to a nuclear catastrophe within hours.
“The whole system is being cooled by the electricity coming in from the town, and the artillery fire is going on,” Stahl told Grossi. “So what happens when the electricity goes out?”
“What’s in there is an emergency system that works in that situation, like a diesel generator that you can put on private property,” says Grossi. “And we don’t want Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, one of the world’s largest, to be cooled by an emergency system that is basically fuel dependent. How do we make it work? Then there will be a meltdown, then there will be a major nuclear emergency or accident with radioactivity, which is what we are trying to prevent.”
“So the situation is completely precarious,” Stahl said.
“Not at all,” Grossi replied. “Until we protect this plant, a nuclear catastrophe is possible.”
That possible catastrophe could dwarf Chernobyl, the much smaller Ukrainian plant that famously exploded 36 years ago. In late August, after months of negotiations with both sides, Director Grossi led his agency’s first mission to an active conflict zone to investigate the stability of Zaporizhia’s site.
“And when we were approaching the last Ukrainian checkpoint, we started to hear gunfire. It was very heavy gunfire. Very close, very close to us. Even people in the city were running for shelter,” Grossi said. “I think it’s pretty obvious that they tried to stop us: ‘Go home. This is not your place.'”
But they moved on. There were soldiers, tanks and armored vehicles everywhere. Russians actually use nuclear power plants as military bases.
“When you went to inspect,” Stahl asked Grossi.
“Yes, as you know, we are the IAEA,” Grossi said. “We are known as nuclear watchdogs.”
“Well, there are reports that you weren’t allowed into the crisis room in the control room,” Stahl said. “Isn’t it?”
“Well, there were areas where we were restricted,” Grossi said. “But we could see everything we needed to see.”
“Didn’t you want to see the control room?” Stahl asked.
“Yeah, we wanted to see it,” Grossi said. “But what is important for us is to observe the essential operation of the nuclear power plant. This is what we were able to see.”
This included evidence of rockets coming dangerously close to nuclear reactors and other sensitive areas. In satellite imagery, Grossi also pointed out a switchyard powered by the town.
“So this is where the external power will cool the reactor,” says Grossi. “And this place was bombarded over and over again, which shows people knew exactly what they were doing.”
“They were trying to turn it off,” Stahl said.
“Exactly,” Grossi replied.
The shelling also destroyed one of the plant’s office buildings. And the workers left to keep the factory going are threatened. After working four months under Russian occupation, a spokesman for a factory that fled Ukraine said he felt like a hostage. There have been reports of imprisonment, kidnapping and torture of Ukrainian employees. The factory manager was arrested.
“When you’re working at a nuclear power plant and you’re stressed, worried and threatened,” Stahl asked Grossi.
“Of course, yes,” said Grossi. “And the shelling continues. This is why we’ve been trying to establish reserves. I’m basically saying, ‘Don’t attack the plants.'”
He made a proposal for the protected area to both Kyiv President Volodymyr Zelensky and Putin at a one-on-one meeting in St. Petersburg last month.
“Do you say so? [Putin] “Do you know what’s going on at this nuclear power plant?” asked Stahl.
“Of course,” Grossi said.
“During my conversations with him, I realized that he has a very detailed knowledge of not only the layout of the plant, but very importantly, the electrical access, the external power supply.” Grossi said. He said. “It’s a facility he’s familiar with. He’s very familiar with it.”
“Is Mr. Putin going to use this plant as a weapon?” asked Stahl. “Someone said to us the other day, ‘This is his dirty bomb, this plant.'”
“Yeah, but there’s no dirty bombs if you stick to it,” Grossi said.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/iaea-rafael-mariano-grossi-zaporizhzhia-nuclear-power-plant-60-minutes-2022-11-20/ “Unprecedented”: IAEA Tackles Current Nuclear Disaster Threat in Ukraine – 60 Minutes