IAEA General Manager Rafael Mariano Grossi said on Friday in a statementthat a site near the town of Enerhodar, home to most of the facility’s personnel, reportedly came under artillery fire earlier in the day, “in the latest incident that suggests an increasingly tense military situation in the area.”

Speculation of military activity

ZNPP, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, is located just a few kilometers from Enerhodar.

IAEA experts present at the facility reported that it had not been affected “but the proximity again underlined persistent threats to nuclear safety and security at a time of heightened speculation about future military operations in the region,” Grossi said.

He again underlined his determination to secure the protection of the ZNPP, which has already been shelled several times during the conflict.

Prevent nuclear risk

The director-general said he is engaged in intensive negotiations with all parties to achieve this important goal and help prevent the risk of a serious nuclear accident on the continent.

“It’s very simple: do not shoot at the facility or use the facility as a military base. It should be in everyone’s interest to agree on a set of principles to protect the facility during conflict,” he said.

ZNPP was occupied by Russian forces shortly after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Staff under stress

There has been one greatly reduced staff since the fighting began, with personnel and their families facing extremely difficult and stressful conditions in the frontline region during the conflict.

The IAEA said a recent evacuation of some residents from Enerhodar added to uncertainty about the staffing situation.

Earlier this month, agency experts observed a further reduction in staffing to essential staff only, but regular day staff returned to the plant on Monday. However, the number of employees is still far below the pre-conflict level.

The number of staff “adequate”

“Our experts have seen a remarkable increase in personnel at the facility this week. Currently, it has enough personnel for a facility whose reactors are all in a shutdown mode. It remains clearly inadequatehowever, to carry out necessary maintenance and other regular work, said Grossi, who described the situation as “unsustainable”.

He warned that the longer the facility has this type of reduced staffing, the greater the nuclear safety and security risks.

Single power line

In addition, the ZNPP remains dependent on the only remaining operational 750 kilovolt power line for the external electricity required for reactor cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions.

Four such lines were available before the conflict, while the last working 330-kilovolt backup power line was damaged in March and has still not been repaired.

Meanwhile, the IAEA team on the ground is continuing its commitment to gain access to the nearby Zaporizhzhya Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP) following assurances from Russia’s state nuclear company, Rosatom, that this would be granted.

ZTPP operates its 330 kilovolt open switchyard, through which back-up power has previously been supplied to the nuclear power plant.