Who Controls the Nuclear Power Plant? A Look at the International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the international body responsible for monitoring and regulating nuclear power plants around the world. In the wake of the Russian occupation of Ukraine's Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has expressed his deep concern about the situation. He has called for urgent cooperation between Russia and Ukraine to allow experts to visit the complex and stabilize the situation, in order to avoid a potential nuclear disaster. The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) is responsible for controlling nuclear equipment, including reactors, fuel cycle facilities and nuclear materials, according to 10 CFR Part 110 standards.

The DOE (Department of Energy) is responsible for controlling nuclear technological and technical assistance and services under the provisions of the United Nations (UN). Grossi has cited numerous violations of safety protocols at the Zaporizhia plant, which is located close to Russian-controlled territory. He has noted that there is a “paradoxical situation” in which the plant is controlled by Russia, but its Ukrainian personnel continue to carry out its nuclear operations, leading to inevitable moments of friction and alleged violence. The IAEA has some contact with staff at the plant, but these contacts are “flawed and irregular” according to Grossi.

The IAEA needs to go to Zaporizhia in order to assess the situation on the ground, carry out repairs and inspections, and prevent a nuclear accident from occurring. Grossi has called for protection for his team in order to reach the plant, as well as urgent cooperation from both Russia and Ukraine. Grossi was in New York recently to deliver a keynote speech at a high-level meeting reviewing the 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He noted that there is an ongoing effort to try to reach an agreement between negotiating parties on this treaty.

He also noted that if the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is not extended, some IAEA inspections will continue. However, he emphasized that cooperating with the IAEA, answering their questions, and allowing its inspectors to go where they need to be is essential for Iran to build trust. Grossi also noted that Australia's agreement with the US and Great Britain to provide Australia with nuclear reactors for their submarines requires an agreement with the IAEA in order to ensure that no nuclear material is lost or gained during transit. Australia has not yet decided what type of ship it will receive, so while there have been preparatory talks, substantive talks cannot begin yet.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was one of the first targets captured by Russian forces after their invasion of Ukraine. The facility is located within a 1,660 square mile exclusion zone, most of which is located in Ukraine. Control of this area gives Russian forces a direct route from their territory into Kiev without having to cross hostile territory. Grossi has noted that this occupation contravenes two of his seven pillars of nuclear safety.

Grossi has expressed his fear that insurgents could get their hands on radioactive material from Chernobyl or Zaporizhia in order to make dirty bombs. He has also noted that Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear power for its energy grid, accounting for more than 50 percent of total generation capacity. The NRC conducts regular safety briefings for senior executives and safety managers in order to ensure they are up-to-date with relevant intelligence data. The IAEA plays an essential role in ensuring that nuclear power plants around the world are safe and secure. In light of recent events in Ukraine, it is more important than ever that Russia and Ukraine cooperate with each other and with the IAEA in order to prevent a potential nuclear disaster.