Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Antony Blinken, and Antonio Guterres are among those anticipated to attend the tenth annual review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on Monday at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The meeting takes place as the United Nations refuses to assist the IAEA in gaining access to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest nuclear plant in Europe, which has been occupied by Russia since the beginning of the war and is in a “alarming” state according to the watchdog agency.
According to Grossi in the most recent IAEA report, it is urgent. I’m still working steadfastly to arrange and take the helm of a mission to the site as soon as possible to provide safety, security, and protections.
Risk to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants
Early in March, when Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhia plant and Ukraine informed the IAEA that Ukrainian staff was running the plant under Russian command, alarm bells rang metaphorically at the Vienna offices of the IAEA, an independent organisation within the U.N. system.
When the takeover occurred, one of the seven pillars of nuclear safety and security—that the operating staff “must be able to fulfil their safety and security tasks and have the capacity to make judgments free of undue pressure”—was breached, and Grossi “expressed significant concern” about this.
In order to prevent information about its operation from being transmitted, Russian forces reportedly turned off some mobile networks and the internet at the site, according to Ukraine.
The first nuclear plant the Russians seized was the Chernobyl plant, which is not operational but still poses a risk because it still has waste and nuclear materials, according to Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, who said on “Face the Nation” in March that the international community should intervene and help Ukraine retake control of the nuclear sites from Russia.
The IAEA has since been able to send a team into the Chernobyl facility in June, but as of July 22, it is “still experiencing a partial loss of safeguards data transfer,” according to Grossi.
Since March, Russian troops have maintained to occupy the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is being run by Ukrainian employees but is being observed by Russian nuclear experts.
Their intention, according to Marat Khusnullin, deputy prime minister of Russia, is to sell Ukraine the energy produced by the plant or, in the event that Ukraine refuses to pay, to supply energy to Russia.
Russia intends to include the Zaporizhzhia area through a referendum; this would nationalise the plant in Russia’s eyes and make monitoring discussions more difficult.
Grossi urged for “maximum prudence to avoid any mishap that could affect public health in Ukraine and elsewhere” on July 22 after receiving reports about the plant that pointed to “an increasingly worrying condition” there.
These reports, according to Grossi, are extremely frightening.
Grossi asked Guterres to assist the IAEA in gaining access to Zaporizhzhia a few weeks ago, according to a U.S. government source familiar with the facility and a U.N. source knowledgeable about the organization’s operations.
According to U.S. and U.N. sources, the U.N. has been denying the IAEA’s requests for assistance and delaying action because of concerns about negotiations to remove crucial grain from Ukraine.
Over 20 U.N. agencies continue to operate in Ukraine and have established safety protocols with Ukraine and Russia, though the agency typically arranges visits to plants on its own.
Other IAEA visits to Ukrainian nuclear power plants, including Chernobyl, have been made possible with assistance from the U.N.
According to a senior UN official, the watchdog agency does not frequently request assistance from the U.N., but when it does, as in the case of the IAEA mission to Chernobyl, the U.N. is able to assist with logistics.
The U.N. representative refused to immediately respond to the inquiry about Zaporizhzhia, only saying, “We have always supported the IAEA in whatever manner we can. Questions were not answered by Grossi’s office.
Possibility to create a plan
The conference’s goal, according to Ambassador Adam M. Scheinman, U.S. Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, was stated during a press briefing on Monday at the United Nations headquarters.
He said that he believed Russia’s provocative nuclear rhetoric was at odds with the treaty’s goals of nuclear weapons limitation and eventual nuclear disarmament.
The majority of the Russian delegation has been granted visas to attend the meeting, and there will also be a representation from Ukraine.
According to analysts, now would be a good moment to develop a safety strategy.
The International Crisis Group think tank’s Richard Gowan told CBS News that Ukraine’s nuclear power plants are a priority and that “the variety of awful scenarios is worrisome.”
“It’s a huge list,” Gowan added, “nuclear plants getting attacked by missiles or artillery, nuclear material going missing, essential staff unable to service the plants.”
It is uncommon to have nuclear power plants in the middle of a significant conventional battle of attrition.
To kick off the month-long summit, which will also address North Korea’s nuclear aspirations and the broken Iran nuclear deal, Grossi will spend two days at the U.N. headquarters on Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend the conference on Monday, and Guterres will be at the U.N. for three days.
Analysts think this is the perfect opportunity for the parties to develop a safety strategy.
“Nobody anticipates that the upcoming diplomatic weeks will be simple.
We must hope that the diplomatic struggle will not be overshadowed by a nuclear mishap in Ukraine “added Gowan.