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IAEA lost access to Chernobyl data transmission

When the Russian military took control of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after its invasion of Ukraine, one of the main concerns was whether troop movements and fighting would trigger radiation.

But although no high radiation was reported immediately after the disaster site and nuclear power plant were captured, the International Atomic Energy Agency no longer has data transmission from the sites. In short, it is even more difficult to monitor nuclear safety from the outside.

“The Agency is reviewing the status of safeguards monitoring systems in other locations in Ukraine and will provide further information soon,” the IAEA said in a statement, referring to the technical protocol it takes to deter the spread of nuclear weapons and contamination. The IAEA did not immediately return Protocol’s request for comment.

Monitoring radiation levels has become a growing concern since the Russian military invasion. Staff and a network of sensors are on site at Chernobyl, a former power station that is home to the worst nuclear disaster in history, and at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, to track radiation. But they were taken hostage and working conditions in the factories deteriorated. Zaporizhzhia workers are said to be in “very poor psychological conditions”, according to Petro Kotin, director of the Ukrainian state-owned atomic energy company Energoatom. Chernobyl personnel have not left the plant for about two weeks.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said staff must be able to rest and work in regular shifts to operate nuclear facilities properly.

“I am deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing the personnel of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety,” Grossi said. “I call on the forces effectively controlling the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel on site.”

Chernobyl also lost power on Wednesday morning local time, Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate wrote in a Facebook post. Standby diesel generators have been activated and can provide electricity for approximately 48 hours. But disturbances in the area “make it impossible” to monitor nuclear and radiological security parameters, the agency said. Although there is no risk of collapse at Chernobyl, the site still poses a risk if safeguards fail due to a lack of electricity or increased fighting in the area.

“Already two weeks, the personnel of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant bravely and heroically perform their duties without rotation to ensure the safe operation of the facilities,” wrote the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine.

Last week, the Ukrainian government demanded that the United Nations expel Russia from a number of advisory bodies, including those dealing with nuclear waste. The government pointed to the bombing of Zaporizhzhia, which started a fire in the power plant (although fortunately no radiation was emitted), as well as the takeover of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, which is home to hazardous nuclear waste. He said the Chernobyl invasion “endangered international environmental security as a whole”. This claim pales in comparison to what the government has said about what is happening at Zaporizhzhia, a working nuclear power plant. Any problem there, the government said, could be “a threat to nuclear and radiation safety around the world”.