Oleh Korikov: “The war has brought about changes in regulatory activities, but Ukraine, as a responsible state and IAEA member, fulfills its obligations to ensure nuclear and radiation safety”

On 24 February 2022, the russian federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Not only military facilities were damaged, but also civilian, critical infrastructure facilities. The least expected for the whole world was the encroachment of the russian military on strategic nuclear facilities. No one could have imagined that the aggressor country would resort to nuclear terrorism and blackmail.

For more than half a year, Ukrainian power engineers have been trying to keep the Zaporizhzhya NPP energized and ensure its safe operation, elimination of the consequences of the exclusion zone and ChNPP occupation is still underway, nuclear subcritical facility “Neutron Source” was damaged and is located in Kharkiv. Ukraine became the first country in history whose nuclear facilities were seized. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine and operating organization faced new challenges.

In this regard, the Uatom.org Editorial Board, under assistance of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, prepared an interview with Acting Chairman – Chief State Inspector for Nuclear and Radiation Safety of Ukraine Oleh Korikov.

So, Mr. Oleh, Ukraine is the first state to face the seizure of nuclear facilities, so far no country has had such an experience. Due to this, tell us what measures had to be taken?

Indeed, Ukraine is the first state in the world to face such a phenomenon as the occupation of civilian nuclear facilities. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine has become a so-called pioneer in the process of adapting its regulatory activities to new, extremely complex conditions.

Since, as we all know, in the period from February 24 to March 31, the exclusion zone and the zone of unconditional (mandatory) resettlement, a number of enterprises, which are located in it and whose activities are related to the management of spent nuclear fuel, radioactive waste and radiation sources were occupied.

As a result of the occupation, conditions arose that did not allow safe operation of such enterprises. There were no access routes for personnel to the facilities, logistics for the delivery of equipment and materials necessary for safe operation of the facilities was affected. As we were informed by licensees, facilities and office premises were damaged. Russian invaders damaged and plundered measuring equipment, computer, office and service equipment.

Thus, enterprises such as ChNPP, Central Radioactive Waste Management Enterprise, Ecocenter, Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants of NAS of Ukraine, one way or another, missed the opportunity to meet the conditions of activities established by regulations and rules on nuclear and radiation safety.

That is why the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, within its powers and in accordance with the Law of Ukraine “On Authorizing Activities in Nuclear Energy Use”, decided to suspend a number of licenses in the field of spent nuclear fuel, radioactive waste and radiation source management.

In particular, we are talking about the ChNPP licenses for decommissioning of ChNPP-1, 2, 3, operation of the New Safe Confinement and Shelter; ChNPP and CRME licenses for radioactive waste management; licenses of CRME, ChNPP, Ecocenter, Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants of NAS of Ukraine for the use of radiation sources.

I have to admit that neither the Ukrainian licensees operating in the area of nuclear energy use or management of spent nuclear fuel, radioactive waste and radiation sources, nor the state nuclear regulatory body were fully prepared for the challenges that arose as a result of the full-scale military invasion of the russian federation on the territory of Ukraine.

As it is known, NPP design does not provide the possibility of NPP operation under military threats. Facilities for the peaceful use of the atom are designed for operation in peaceful conditions.

Now there is a gradual process for renewal of enterprises’ licenses in the exclusion zone and their activities. Thus, in August, the Licensing Commission of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate renewed the license of ChNPP for decommissioning of ChNPP-1, 2, 3, for operation of NSC and Shelter, for processing, storage of radioactive waste. In addition, the CRME licenses for activities at the stages of construction and operation of the Vektor radioactive waste disposal facilities, for operation of the storage facilities for Chornobyl radwaste in the territory of the exclusion zone, as well as for radioactive waste processing and storage, were renewed.

Such decisions are made by the Licensing Commission, taking into account the results of an expert assessment, documents provided by licensees confirming the elimination of the reasons for which the licenses were previously suspended.

What about the situation at the Zaporizhzhya NPP, which is currently under occupation? How the interaction between the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate and the operating organization, Energoatom is implemented now?

The interaction between SNRIU and Energoatom is implemented according to Ukrainian legislation, standards and rules on nuclear and radiation safety. That is, this is the interaction between the regulator, which exercises control and licensing, and the operating organization, which is our licensee.

Despite the fact that the Zaporizhzhya NPP has been under the occupation of the Russian military since 4 March this year, we receive all the necessary information about the safety state of nuclear facilities at the ZNPP site.

SNRIU maintains continuous contact with the ZNPP personnel, receives daily operational information on operation parameters and modes of power units, applies methods of remote control and radiation monitoring independent of the operator. These data are also transmitted to the IAEA IRMIS system.

The SNRIU Information and Emergency Center receives information around the clock, analyzes it, makes appropriate projections on the probable development of the situation at ZNPP and its potential consequences. Accordingly, IAEA is promptly informed.

The functioning of the data and information transmission system allows remote state safety oversight of ZNPP nuclear facilities. I can say that since the occupation of the Zaporizhzhya NPP site by the russian federation military and to this day, radiation monitoring systems have not recorded an excess of the established values ​​​​for emissions and discharges of radioactive substances into the environment, and the radiation background in the control and observation areas is at the natural level.

On the basis of the information received and relevant Energoatom statements, the SNRIU Licensing Commission amended the licenses for operation of ZNPP-1, 2. I signed the relevant order on 18 August 2022.

According to the amendments made, ZNPP-1 is operated by the operating organization in the refueling – cold shutdown states. ZNPP-2 is operated in the cold shutdown state. The indicated operation states of ZNPP-1, 2, according to the justification provided by the Energoatom and SNRIU expert conclusions, are optimal in the conditions of the ZNPP occupation by the russian troops. In the turbine halls of these power units, the invaders deployed their military equipment.

In addition, SNRIU together with the Energoatom developed a program of tasks for the IAEA mission, which visited the Zaporizhzhya NPP in early September. It provided a comprehensive assessment of the radiation and nuclear safety state, in particular, the physical protection system, verification of nuclear fuel in accordance with the Agreement between Ukraine and IAEA on the application of safeguards under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

That is, I want to say that, despite the war, Ukraine remains a responsible party to all international agreements in the field of nuclear and radiation safety, as far as it is possible in the current conditions.

Have the Regulator developed new regulations, taking into account the russian aggression?

Yes, SNRIU, with the participation of the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, developed and adopted several regulatory documents aimed at supporting safety of facilities located in the exclusion zone, which are related to the management of spent nuclear fuel, radioactive waste and radiation sources. These documents have been developed with the support of the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA).

The first of them is the “Recommended Approach to the State Safety Regulation of Nuclear and Radiation Facilities Located in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone Affected by Military Operations”. This document defines the approach regarding the scope and specifics of applying the principles, general provisions and safety requirements, licensing and state oversight procedures for various types of facilities that were under hostile occupation and need detailed surveys, inspections, restoration of functioning for systems important to safety, elimination of identified safety deficiencies.

The second regulatory document is the “Recommended Procedure to Restore the Safety Level of Nuclear and Radiation Facilities in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone Affected by Military Operations”. It details the procedure for the indicated surveys and inspections of the state of facilities and assessing the ability of licensees to perform activities in accordance with regulatory documents and license conditions.

As the titles of these documents imply, they are advisory. This is due to the fact that they are intended for use in wartime and the post-occupation period. I note that these recommendations are aimed at the restoration of control over facilities in ChEZ, which was disrupted due to the occupation by the russian federation.

I believe that the application of these documents by both SNRIU and licensees will allow systematical resumption of the safe operation for facilities and specialized enterprises in ChEZ.

In addition, I think that the experience of applying these documents for facilities in ChEZ, if necessary, can be further applied in safety regulation of other nuclear and radiation facilities affected by military actions and occupation. There is no experience of other countries, just as there are no international requirements for the implementation of safety regulation at nuclear facilities under similar conditions.

Does the regulator obtain support from partner organizations, what kind of support?

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to our partners: countries of the civilized world, their regulatory bodies. They are well aware that due to the russian aggression, we in Ukraine have threats and increased risks of a nuclear or radiation accident. In particular, when we are talking about the Zaporizhzhya NPP.

Our partners clearly emphasize that in order to return ZNPP nuclear facilities to the safe operation, it is necessary that the russian federation de-occupy ZNPP, withdraw its troops and military equipment both from the plant itself and from the satellite town of Energodar, as well as the territories adjacent to ZNPP.

Thus, 55 countries of the world and the European Union made a joint statement on the ongoing aggression of russia against Ukraine at the final meeting of the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was held at the UN Headquarters in New York during August.

In it, they call on russia to withdraw its armed forces from Ukraine and return the Zaporizhzhya NPP, as well as all nuclear and radiation facilities within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, to the full control of the Ukrainian authorities. Moreover, international partners constantly note that Ukraine has been safely and reliably operating its nuclear facilities for decades, observing all internationally recognized principles and requirements.

We receive such support from our partners at all international forums. Regardless, these are industry conferences within the implementation of international conventions and agreements in the field of nuclear energy safe use, or this is a meeting of the UN Security Council on the situation at the Zaporizhzhya NPP.

The safety situation of nuclear facilities in Ukraine has become a top topic at all events and it is very important that we have such international support.

However, in addition to diplomatic solidarity, there is also specific assistance in providing Ukraine with the necessary equipment and materials to maintain safety at nuclear facilities and exercise proper control.

Thus, Ukraine received the first part of assistance through the IAEA Response and Assistance Network (RANET) from the US Government back in May of this year: portable spectrometers were provided for prompt monitoring and determination of environment radiological parameters. In July, a humanitarian cargo with personal protective equipment, dosimetric and radiometric devices arrived from Australia and France.

In general, many countries expressed their readiness to support and assist. These are Australia, USA, Romania, Hungary, France, Germany, Sweden, Israel, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Spain and a number of other countries.

Therefore, taking this opportunity, I express my sincere gratitude to colleagues from the partner countries, employees of logistics companies, who during this difficult period provide both documentary support and transport of necessary things, tools and equipment.

Uatom.org Editorial Board