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Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards in Ukraine

Chair,

Given the late hour I start with an apology for speaking for more than three minutes but I must begin by responding to comments from the Russian Federation related to the use of depleted uranium in Ukraine.

Chair,

The United Kingdom has used depleted uranium in its armour-piercing shells for decades. This is a standard component and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons or nuclear capabilities. Russia knows this perfectly well because Russia also uses depleted uranium based ammunition. I hope, Chair, that the Russian Ambassador is not deliberately trying to mislead the Board and I emphasise that the UK is in full compliance with its safeguards obligations in this regard.

Chair,

The United Kingdom thanks the Director General for his comprehensive report on Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards in Ukraine and for the regular updates, the most recent of which was released earlier this week. These reports continue to provide the only independent source of information on the state of nuclear safety, security and safeguards at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which remains under illegal Russian control.

Chair,

We heard a long intervention from the Russian Ambassador, challenging multiple paragraphs of the DG’s report before the Board today. However, we prefer to rely on the IAEA’s assessment, which in our view, paints a worrying picture of the deterioration of nuclear safety at the ZNPP.

There is currently no comprehensive, systematic maintenance programme. Overall levels of maintenance are significantly lower than before the conflict. As the report states, “reduced maintenance of safety systems might result in a higher failure rate of other systems and components irrespective of the plant’s shut down state, and might affect the safe operation of the plant.”

Although the report refers to a small increase in daily staffing levels during the reporting period, the total number of staff has reduced significantly since the start of the conflict and this impacts safety across the site, including in the main control rooms.

Russia continues to replace experienced Ukrainian staff with new Russian personnel, unfamiliar with the site and its procedures.

The report states that the staffing situation is “not sustainable and may have implications for nuclear safety and security.”

The Russian Ambassador disagreed with that assessment – that is his prerogative – but we prefer to believe the independent, expert assessment by the DG and his team.

Chair,

in addition the report tells us that there is still no alternative steam source on site despite the regulatory order issued by the Ukrainian Regulator, SNRIU, on 8 June and repeated urging from the IAEA.

The IAEA team continues to struggle to secure adequate access, having to make advance requests and being “prevented from accessing critical areas for very long periods of time”.

This means the IAEA cannot make a clear assessment that the DG’s Five Concrete principles are being observed at all times. For these reasons – and there are many more examples in the report – the situation at ZNPP should remain the Board’s most serious nuclear safety concern.

For these reasons, Russia’s seizure and continued control of ZNPP has been the focus of three Board of Governors resolutions and, most recently, a General Conference resolution, passed with cross regional support.

The Russian Ambassador talked about the number of votes in favour so I think it is important to remind colleagues that the resolution was adopted with only 6 votes against – an overwhelming majority in support. That resolution calls for the plant to be returned to the full control of the competent Ukrainian authorities and deals directly with matters of nuclear safety, security and safeguards, which have everything to do with this organisation’s mandate.

In stark contrast to the situation at the ZNPP, the DG’s report sets out the situation at Ukraine’s other nuclear plants – those that are under Ukrainian control: All nuclear safety and security systems at South Ukraine, Khmelnytskyy and Rivne NPPs continue to operate as designed and to be fully functional. The plants’ operating staff conduct regular operational testing and preventive maintenance of the systems.

No failures or challenges to their operation were reported. All three plants have sufficient qualified operating staff to ensure the safe and secure plant operation.

All of this has been achieved against a backdrop of frequent air-raid alarms; a powerful explosion close to the Khmelnytskyy NPP, which damaged the windows of several buildings at the site; and, with the onset of winter, the looming threat of renewed Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, including power lines connected to the Plants.

We recognise the heavy toll this takes on the Ukrainian operating staff and welcome the IAEA’s work, with Ukraine, to support the physical and mental welfare of staff.

Given the Russian Ambassador’s comments to this Board I will close with a reminder of the UN General Assembly Resolution adopted on 12 October 2022, which declared that, inter alia, the attempted illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine on 4 October has no validity under international law.

With these remarks, the UK takes note of the report GOV/2023/59 and asks that it be made public.

Thank you, Chair.

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