26 April 2022

Today, I travelled to the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and exclusion zone in Ukraine with a team of safety, security and safeguards experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). We commemorated the thirty-sixth anniversary of the accident that occurred in 1986 and delivered the first batch of equipment needed to repair and rebuild the facility following its occupation by Russian troops. As we stood in the pouring rain alongside the operators of the site, the stories of their stoic, everyday heroism, which has been so evident over past two months, made a deep impression on me.

This meeting, together with my meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv shortly afterwards and my visit to the South Ukraine Nuclear Power plant a few weeks ago, left me with no doubt that IAEA needs to be physically in Ukraine right now. There is not a minute to lose.  

The people who have for weeks kept the nuclear power plants in Ukraine safe—despite the presence of Russian troops and off-site interruptions to incoming power supplies, as happened at Chornobyl, and despite the danger posed by the military conflict in the country—deserve our solidarity, our support and our action. There is important work for us to do together. IAEA teams are listening, taking note of what is needed and meeting those needs. This week, we are conducting radiological assessments and restoring safeguards monitoring systems. IAEA will offer a physical presence at nuclear sites where it is requested; we will also continue remote assistance.

Technical assistance and equipment are, of course, crucial, but after what the world has been through in the last two years, I don’t think any of us underestimates the importance of direct human connection. It is clear to see in the many people who wait at train stations in Europe, welcoming refugees and showing us all our common humanity. Within the group of experts that make up the nuclear community and IAEA, a solidarity among scientists is evident. People from many nations are eager to assist Ukraine and the people who operate its nuclear facilities.

The safety and security of nuclear power plants (NPPs) is as much about people as it is about the physical integrity of reactors and fuel storage ponds or the operation of safety systems. They are all part of the seven indispensable pillars of nuclear safety.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi on an official visit to Ukraine, March 2022. IAEA

If the people who operate an NPP are not able to do their jobs safely and without interruption or undue pressure, the safety and security of that plant is compromised. Today, I was honoured to be able to thank the Chornobyl crew for their extraordinary resilience and courage. They are heroes. 

It is true that these are unprecedented times that call for us to take unprecedented action. Never before has a war been fought amid the facilities of a large nuclear power programme. But as unique as this situation is, our assistance to Ukraine is a continuation of what IAEA has done for decades every single day of the year all over the world. In support of nuclear safety and security, IAEA is there to respond to the needs and requests of its member States. More unusual—and in my view, untenable—would be for us to stop offering that assistance, just when it is needed most.

We must help bring about a fast improvement in a dire situation. We are doing this in three ways.

First, through our Incident and Emergency Centre, IAEA will continue to advise Ukraine remotely and offer the rest of the world impartial, trusted updates about the situation at the country’s nuclear facilities. Our experts, for example, will help Ukrainian operators identify vulnerabilities, evaluate the impact of any military action and advise them on whether radioactive sources need to be removed from a site for the sake of safety. 

Second, IAEA will assist in procuring and delivering emergency equipment, from radiation monitors to temporary storage facilities for radioactive sources, for the Ukrainian NPPs that need them. A global network of technology suppliers is on standby, ready and keen to act quickly through IAEA.

Third, IAEA safety, security and safeguards experts will travel to Ukraine to continue helping on the ground after my initial mission this week is complete. They will serve as trusted eyes, ears and voices of impartiality, informed by deep technical knowledge and experience. Our safety experts will offer Ukrainian operators and regulators hands-on assistance to bolster the safety of the NPPs; our security teams will support measures that keep nuclear material from being stolen by those wanting to use it maliciously; and our safeguards inspectors will work to ensure that nothing interrupts the long track record of Ukraine meeting its international non-proliferation obligations, assuring IAEA that all nuclear material continues to be used solely for peaceful purposes.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi with staff of the Southern Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, March 2022. IAEA

I trust that the presence of the IAEA teams will help stabilize the situation at the NPPs in Ukraine so that these sites can peacefully serve their normal, indispensable purpose as the country’s prime energy providers.

While independent, IAEA is also part of the wider United Nations system, which is there to help people in times of need. As my team and I have been travelling to Ukraine, we have done so also as representatives of that system. It was clearly written in blue letters on our white vehicle for everyone to see: “UN”. We are grateful for the support of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, with whom I am in regular contact; the Security Council, which I had the opportunity to brief personally; and the General Assembly. We are also thankful for the support provided to us by the United Nations Department of Safety and Security, which enables IAEA to offer its indispensable assistance in Ukraine.

Ultimately, the safety and security of NPPs is about the safety and security of people—the people who work at the plants, the people who live around them, the people who rely on them for their electricity.

IAEA is today providing technical assistance to maximize the safety and security of the nuclear power system in Ukraine, working with our Ukrainian partners shoulder to shoulder, human to human.