Wednesday, June 19, 2024

UK condemns Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure as nuclear safety ‘compromised’ | New Civil Engineer

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The situation at Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhizhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) “remains extremely fragile” and the UN should “reject, categorically, Russia’s deliberate and illegal assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure” according to two British ambassadors.

The comments came as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia rumbles on, with Western weapons having recently been authorised for use against targets inside Russia.

In March the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Rafael Mariano Grossi outlined seven indispensable pillars of nuclear safety and all are now said to be compromised or partially compromised at ZNPP.

In April 2024, ZNPP was directly targeted by Russian military drones leading experts to raise the alarm about the risks of attacking hazardous infrastructure assets.

Days later, the UK delegation to the OSCE deputy head Deirdre Brown raised the UK Government’s concerns about the plant during the OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna on 11 April.

IAEA Seven Pillars of nuclear safety:

  1.  The physical integrity of the facilities – whether it is the reactors, fuel ponds, or radioactive waste stores – must be maintained;
  2.  All safety and security systems and equipment must be fully functional at all times;
  3. The operating staff must be able to fulfil their safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure;
  4. There must be secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites;
  5. There must be uninterrupted logistical supply chains and transportation to and from the sites;
  6. There must be effective on-site and off-site radiation monitoring systems and emergency preparedness and response measures; and
  7. There must be reliable communications with the regulator and others.

With the UK’s general election called on 22 May for 4 July, government departments are not permitted to make statements which could be seen to influence the outcome of the election. However, some business as usual activities are allowed to go ahead, including international diplomacy.

On 6 June, the UK Ambassador to the IAEA Corinne Kitsell made a statement to the IAEA’s Board of Governors meeting on Ukraine.

Kitsell said: “The director general’s thorough report, which is the only source of objective information about the nuclear safety situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhizhia Nuclear Power Plant, provides another stark reminder of the severe implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

“We are concerned that since the March Board of Governors, the IAEA now assesses that at ZNPP, all of the director general’s “Seven Pillars” for ensuring nuclear safety and security in armed conflict are compromised fully or partially.

“Each time this Board meets, we see an erosion of safety at the plant and without ZNPP being returned to its rightful owner – Ukraine – we can only expect this trend to continue.

“We note all reactor units at ZNPP are now in cold-shut down, finally complying with the regulatory order issued a year ago by the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine.

“However, as the director general recognises in his update of 30 May, even in this scenario, the situation remains extremely fragile. We agree with his assessment that all six reactors should remain in cold shutdown.”

She also said: “The vulnerability of the power supply to Ukraine’s nuclear sites presents serious challenge to safety. This is power vital for essential functions required to prevent a nuclear accident.

“As discussed at the Extraordinary Board meeting in April and at the UN Security Council, we are extremely concerned by reports of drone strikes hitting the site of ZNPP, as well as of rounds of outgoing artillery fire from near the plant in April.

“Reports of increased military activity, including gun fire and explosions at the site and in its vicinity, are extremely worrying.”

The day after the speech to the IAEA, on 7 June, the UK Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward said: “We cannot say it enough times. Russia, who use their seat on this Council to opine on and to sit in judgement on other countries on this Council’s agenda, are, as we speak, bombing Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, with no regard for civilian life, in an illegal war of aggression and in defiance of the UN charter. Let me make three specific points.

“First, we should all look at the facts. The Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant, the largest in Ukraine, was severely damaged in a targeted attack by Russia, and can no longer produce electricity.

“A breach of the dam would have had even more severe humanitarian consequences. This Council should reject, categorically, Russia’s deliberate and illegal assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.”

At the time of the attacks on ZZNP, Nuclear Industry Association director of policy and external affairs Lincoln Hill said: “The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has very robust and layered protections which has meant it has fared extremely well given the conditions.”

Soon after the April drone attacks against ZNPP were reported, the UK Government launched a competition for ideas around how to protect critical infrastructure from uncrewed aerial system (UAS) kinetic attacks.

The Defence and Security Accelerator (Dasa) launched a themed competition called ‘Protecting physical assets from UAS attack’ which is jointly funded by the National Protective Security Authority (NPSA), the UK Home Office and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

In March, NCE reported that impact on biodiversity in southern Ukraine following the breach of the Nova Kokhovka dam had been studied in an “unprecedented” rapid assessment by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH) and HR Wallingford using remote sensing.

The 3.2km long, 30m high dam across the Dnipro River was breached on 6 June 2023 as part of the ongoing conflict with Russia. The dam held back 18M.m3 of water and was so big that locals called it the Kakohovka Sea, as you could not see across it.

This water flooded a wide area of Ukraine in the Kherson region, towards Crimea, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians and causing widespread ecological damage.

It has since returned roughly to its former river profile due to the breach.

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