The IAEA Needs Access to Ukraine’s Nuclear Power Plant. Biden Can Help.

“Untenable.” That’s how Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), last week described the situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP), which Russia seized in March. He said that every day “the independent work and assessments of Ukraine’s regulator are undermined,” the “risk of an accident or a security breach increases.” Grossi asserted he wants to send an IAEA mission to the ZNPP, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. In a twist, however, Ukraine’s atomic energy regulators, presumably at the direction of Kyiv, have rejected Grossi’s request. 

Ukraine believes an IAEA visit to the ZNPP would legitimize Russia’s control of the complex. Grossi has rejected that characterization, emphasizing that “it is absolutely incorrect. When I go there, I will be going there under the same agreement that Ukraine passed with the IAEA, not the Russian Federation.” President Joe Biden urgently needs to convince Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to let the IAEA in to ensure the ZNPP is safe and secure.

The ZNPP, located in east Ukraine, is a facility with six light water reactors, and it produced up to one-fifth of Ukraine’s electricity production before the war. To gain control of it, Russia shelled the area with missiles, sparking a widely reported fire. The missile attack spurred fears that Moscow could further damage the facility and cause a nuclear radiological incident that could harm Ukrainian civilians and neighboring countries.

Ukrainian authorities brought the fire under control, but Russia installed officials from its atomic energy agency, Rosatom, to oversee day-to-day work of Ukrainian personnel. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine warned in a statement that life at Zaporizhzhia has become intolerable under Moscow’s direction: Russia’s military and representatives of Russia’s Rosatom and its subsidiary Rosenergoatom “constantly terrorize and directly threaten the lives of the plant personnel.” 

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