When Russia first attacked the Ukrainian nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia in March, U.S. officials slammed Moscow for being reckless. Yet, when Russia announced earlier this month that it would hold a referendum that would effectively make the plant Russian property, U.S. officials were silent. Foggy Bottom has also said nothing about Russia’s demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) only work with Moscow if it wants to gain access to the plant. That’s a mistake.
As Victor Gilinsky and I explain in the attached piece “Dealing with Russian contempt for the IAEA in Ukraine,” that The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists just posted, Moscow’s military occupation of the plant and demands that the IAEA ignore its existing nuclear safeguards agreement with Ukraine threaten the future integrity of the international nuclear safeguards system.
“The member countries of the IAEA face a decision,” we note. “Which is more important, IAEA inspector access to the Zaporizhzhia site, or upholding the IAEA’s international system of safeguards by honoring the IAEA’s agreement with Ukraine and refusing Russian terms for access?”
The answer for us is clear: The U.S. and like-minded nations must oppose Russian demands and back the integrity of the IAEA’s agreement with Ukraine. Russia, after all, is a nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). As a result, Moscow is under no obligation to open any of its civilian nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection. If the IAEA does anything to recognize Russian sovereignty over Zaporizhzhia, it risks forfeiting its future right ever to inspect it.
That’s not a bargain Vienna should strike. Russia may be the first NPT nuclear weapons state to militarily occupy an NPT nonweapons state’s civilian nuclear plant, but it may do so again (in Ukraine and possibly in neighboring states). Worse, others — China against Taiwan and North Korea against South Korea — may be emboldened to follow Moscow’s example.
The IAEA’s director, Rafael Grossi will be in New York at the NPT Review Conference Monday trying to secure United Nations support to gain access to Zaporizhzhia. In this matter, the United States and its supporters must make certain that Ukraine’s ownership of the plant and the continued primacy of its agreement with the IAEA are reaffirmed even if that means delaying IAEA inspection of the plant.
July 28, 2022
Author: Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski
By Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski
On March 12 the Russian invaders informed the managers of Ukraine’s six-reactor Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, that the plant now belonged to, and would be run by, Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear power company. No country had ever seized another’s nuclear facility by force. Never have power reactor operators run a captured nuclear plant at gunpoint. This is not just a figure of speech. In May Russian forces shot a plant technician they suspected of passing information to Ukraine. More recently, the Russian military has turned the plant into a missile base, knowing the Ukrainians would not shoot back at a reactor site. The site is covered by an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for periodic inspections, which Russia has effectively abrogated.
Why does this matter? The “safeguards” agreements with the IAEA, standard for all members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with nuclear power plants, are absolutely fundamental to legitimizing the peaceful applications of nuclear energy throughout the world. All NPT states have an interest in the way they are carried out at every other member’s facilities. Each agreement stipulates that IAEA inspectors will have plant access, under the auspices of the agreeing state, in this case Ukraine, to ensure that the nuclear activities are indeed peaceful. The Russians, who have taken plant by force, are now effectively telling the IAEA, “If you want access to the site, you have to forget about your agreement with Ukraine and come to us for permission, and thereby acknowledge that this is now a Russian plant.” The member countries of the IAEA face a decision: Which is more important, IAEA inspector access to the Zaporizhzhia site, or upholding the IAEA’s international system of safeguards by honoring the IAEA’s agreement with Ukraine and refusing Russian terms for access?
In calling for IAEA inspections to resume, as he did again on June 29, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has repeatedly underlined the importance of the agency’s safeguards role and the need to maintain the continuity of information about nuclear materials at the plant. The Russians have restored data links with the plant, but there haven’t been any IAEA inspections since the Russian invasion. In his public announcements, Grossi has been careful to maintain the appearance that he is dealing with Ukraine regarding the plant, in the context of the Ukraine-IAEA agreement. But Grossi has discussed access with the Russians. This would inevitably involve consession to Russian control and therefore disregard of the Ukraine-IAEA agreement.
Concerning an IAEA inspection, President Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, noted slyly: “Naturally, the organization of such a trip is accompanied by the need to resolve a whole range of logistics and technical issues—from which side to enter, from which territory, through which crossing points, on what transport, etc.” The relevance of this observation involved the location of the plant on the South bank of the Dnipro River—which is miles wide at this point, and Ukraine controls the other side. In principle, the IAEA could come through Ukranian territory on a boat. This is exactly what the Russians will not permit. They insist that inspectors come through Russian-held territory, with Russian passport checks, to demonstrate the legitimacy of Russian control.
The world needs to consider which is more important in this case: (1) making sure that the Ukrainians did not steal nuclear materials from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant before the Russian takeover? Or (2) maintaining the international integrity of IAEA agreements and, specifically, the IAEA safeguards agreement with Ukraine?
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