IAEA Board of Governors Meeting, Agenda Item 9: The safety, security, and safeguards implications of the situation in Ukraine
U.S. statement as delivered by Ambassador Laura S.H. Holgate
Vienna, Austria, June 9, 2022
We are facing unprecedented circumstances of a full-scale war against a country engaged in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy including an extensive nuclear power program. Russia’s brutal, unprovoked, and unjustified war against Ukraine directly challenges all of the core missions of this Agency: promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology, advancing high standards of safety and security, and applying safeguards to verify peaceful use. This direct challenge is why this Board passed the resolution in March and, as a result of Russia’s flaunting this resolution, it is also essential that the Board address these challenges today, despite our very busy agenda this week.
I would like to begin by offering my government’s deepest thanks and admiration to many of the key players:
-To the Ukrainian authorities, operators, and the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine for their steadfast commitment to nuclear safety, security, and safeguards under extraordinarily trying circumstances;
-To the Director General, for his tireless efforts in support of Ukraine to ensure safety and security of nuclear power plants, and implementation of safeguards in Ukraine;
-To the staff of the Agency, particularly the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security and the Department of Safeguards, who have risen to the challenge of responding to Ukraine’s urgent needs;
-To the Member States that have responded to the Agency’s efforts to mobilize assistance for Ukraine;
-And to Poland for asking that this issue be included on our agenda.
Chair, much has happened since we addressed this issue in March.
Russia has continued its unprovoked war without any justification or respect for human life or dignity. Russia’s aggression must stop. On the nuclear front, Russian forces have seized the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, putting inordinate stress on its staff and compromising its safe operations. Russian forces have shelled the nuclear research facility at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology multiple times, though the facility remains safely shut down. Russian missiles have flown recklessly over Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.
Russian forces have abandoned the Chornobyl site and returned it to Ukrainian control, but only after causing extensive damage. It will take time to evaluate the impact of Russia’s actions at this site, which reportedly included looting of equipment and laboratories, digging trenches in contaminated ground, and causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. Russian officials have repeatedly and deliberately provided false and misleading information in efforts to justify or downplay the depravity of Russia’s actions. It is an insult to this Board that they present these lies to our faces. No one should be fooled by this tired Russian playbook. This is why it is essential for IAEA experts to be present at all nuclear facilities in Ukraine, as we need to rely on the Agency for our information, not Russia.
Director General Grossi and members of the Agency’s staff have visited Ukraine multiple times to engage with Ukrainian authorities and to provide assistance at Ukrainian facilities. The DG’s “seven indispensable pillars” of nuclear safety and security encapsulate accepted global principles in common sense terms and help spotlight the dangers Russia’s actions have caused.
Ukraine and the IAEA have activated the Agency’s Response and Assistance Network (RANET) to help respond to the acute and ongoing needs that Ukraine has identified. The Agency has also set up a coordination mechanism under the able leadership of Deputy Director General Evrard. My government looks forward to its further development and implementation. It is crucial to have a clear understanding of Ukraine’s needs that are most urgent so that we, collectively, may meet them as quickly as possible. It is also important to address Ukraine’s longer-term needs, and to coordinate the various offers to avoid duplication and to meet priority needs first.
It is also important to acknowledge the actions many Member States have taken to respond both to Ukraine’s needs and to the IAEA as it strives to meet the additional demands this situation is placing on the Agency. The United States, for its part, has made offers of assistance to Ukraine through RANET and has responded to an initial funding request from the IAEA. The needs are great and demand a concerted and systematic response from the Agency and its Member States.
On safeguards at Chornobyl there is some good news, as Deputy Director General Aparo and his team have restored monitoring and remote data transmission and avoided any permanent loss of continuity of knowledge. They also continue to carry out inspections and monitor data transmissions from nuclear facilities under Ukrainian control. But the safeguards status at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is cause for concern. On Monday, the Director General told us that the remote transmission of safeguards data has been interrupted, and that Ukraine’s regulator has informed the Agency that it has “lost control” over nuclear material at the facility. This raises the danger that continuity of knowledge could be lost if inspectors cannot return to the facility soon; they must be able to conduct inspections safely and in a manner consistent with Ukraine’s safeguards agreements and Additional Protocol.
Chair, the United States recognizes the enormous political, security, and logistical challenges of arranging a safeguards visit to a nuclear facility under the control of an invading military. Any IAEA visit would have to occur in a manner that fully respects Ukrainian sovereignty and legitimate Ukrainian authorities, and the IAEA must not lend any legitimacy to Russia’s actions or control of the site. Ultimately the integrity of safeguards depends on physical access by inspectors to safeguarded nuclear material and facilities. This body must remain ready to further support Ukraine and the Director General if, through no fault of its own, Ukraine remains unable to provide that access.
Chair, let me turn to what must happen next. It should go without saying that Russia must stop its senseless war against Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory. In the nuclear arena, Russian forces must cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities and return full control of these facilities to Ukraine. And most urgently, they must end any actions that compromise core “pillars” of safety and security at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.
My government encourages the Director General and the Secretariat to continue their critical work and to report to the Board and all Member States on any new developments. We also encourage Member States to do what they can to help Ukraine and the Agency. All of us should recognize that the nuclear safety and security incidents in Ukraine, and any future incidents, are likely to have an impact on public perception of the global nuclear energy enterprise. This is Russia’s doing – Russia is responsible for this. We should neither exaggerate nor downplay the dangers.
Chair, the United States, along with other Member States and members of this Board, will remain focused on this issue in support of Ukraine and the Agency.