IAEA Board of Governors Meeting, Agenda Item 6: The safety, security, and safeguards implications of the situation in Ukraine
U.S. statement as delivered by Deputy Chief of Mission Louis L. Bono
Vienna, Austria, March 9, 2022
Good afternoon Mr. Chair,
The United States thanks the Director General for his personal attention and the Secretariat’s focused efforts to address the nuclear safety and security implications of Russia’s unprovoked and premediated invasion of Ukraine and attacks harming Ukraine’s nuclear installations. The regular updates highlight the dangers of Russia’s military offensives, including at Ukraine’s civilian nuclear sites, which had been safe and secure for decades. We also thank the Director General for his forthright emphasis on the core principles of nuclear safety and security – the seven pillars, as he has called them – which Russia’s actions have put at risk, and for his efforts to work with Ukrainian authorities to ensure that these pillars will be upheld in the face of the danger Russian actions, and in calling for a halt to military actions that put Ukrainian facilities at risk. We fully support the DG’s efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to this unprecedented aggression against civilian nuclear power plants.
Once again, we applaud the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine for its regular updates to the IAEA and the international community, and for the dedication of its staff in carrying out its essential duties under these extraordinarily trying circumstances. It is thanks to their tireless work in providing reliable, factual reports that we know the full extent of the grave and spreading risks posed by Russia’s military actions. Their efforts to deliver an accurate description of the situation on the ground at the facilities they continue to oversee stand in stark contrast to the ludicrous fabrications presented to this Board by the Russian representative earlier this week. We can only regret that such an important stakeholder in the work of the Agency would proffer such irresponsible, transparently false, and self-serving claims with the clear intent to mislead.
While we applaud these efforts to maintain safety and security, we cannot fail to acknowledge the root causes of the current situation. When we met last week, the list of Russian attacks endangering Ukraine’s civilian nuclear infrastructure was already long, including the seizure of the Chornobyl site, the striking of radiological facilities in Kyiv and Kharkiv, and a military thrust toward Europe’s largest nuclear power station in Zaporizhzhya. Within hours of our meeting, Russia launched an assault on this last site, putting critical safety systems at risk and ultimately seizing military control there as well. Russian actions have put additional stress on the operators and endangered the safe operations of all these sites. Since then, Russian attacks have endangered yet another nuclear research facility in Kharkiv, a neutron source facility U.S. experts helped design and build in exchange for the removal of high-enriched uranium fuel from Ukraine. And while Ukrainian staff continue to operate nuclear facilities at Chornobyl and Zaporizhzhya, they are forced to act under orders of Russian military forces that have tightened their grip, cutting off power, supplies, and communications, and preventing shift rotations. Russian actions are preventing Ukraine from meeting its obligations under the Convention on Nuclear Safety as well as the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. As the Director General reported Monday, “having operating staff subject to the authority of the Russian military commander contravenes an indispensable pillar of nuclear safety.”
While the illegality and brutality of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine are properly the concern of other bodies such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, basic prudence would dictate that Russian armed forces should act with maximum restraint to avoid creating needless nuclear safety risks. Instead, Russia appears to have made at least two nuclear sites the targets of its campaign, ignoring the risks to operators and surrounding populations to seize control of critical elements of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Russia has cited the transparently false pretext of stopping Ukraine from making a dirty bomb or nuclear weapon. The Director General has made clear that Ukraine has cooperated fully in the implementation of safeguards and that the Agency has not found any indication of a proliferation concern in Ukraine. To put in context the claims Russia is making in a desperate action to defend its indefensible actions in Ukraine, this week we heard the outlandish claim here in this very chamber that Russian troops were actually defending Ukrainian nuclear facilities from the Ukrainian people. This is the same government that has made it a crime for its own citizens to call its actions in Ukraine what they so plainly are: a war.
As set out in the Statute, this body has the authority and responsibility to “carry out the functions of the Agency,” including establishing “standards of safety for the protection of health and minimization of danger to life and property … and to provide for the application of these standards … at the request of a State, to any of that State’s activities in the field of atomic energy.” Ukraine has asked for our help, and we must consider how we can provide that help pursuant to the Agency’s coordinated efforts with Ukraine and with Member States.
I welcome the Director General’s tireless efforts to address this core responsibility of the Agency to help its Member State, Ukraine. We recognize that the Director General and his staff are working at all hours and my government fully supports his efforts to work with the competent Ukrainian authorities based on the seven “pillars” he has enunciated. And while it may prove necessary to engage with Russian officials or Russian military commanders, this must be done in a way that does not condone or otherwise lend legitimacy to their unlawful presence and their aggression against Ukraine.
Last week, Russia cynically offered to consider Ukraine’s request to the Agency for assistance. Let’s be honest: the best way for Russia to help is to leave Ukraine. Russia must heed the call this Board made last week to immediately cease all actions against any nuclear facility in Ukraine, and the demand of the UN General Assembly that Russia withdraw its military forces entirely from Ukraine.
In closing, let me turn to issues of nuclear safeguards and security. While I welcome the Director General’s statement last week that, “the Agency’s safeguards activities are ongoing” in Ukraine, we remain deeply concerned about how Russia’s reckless actions may further disrupt safeguards implementation. In fact, Russia’s actions have impeded safeguards implementation in Ukraine since 2014. The Agency may rely on instrumentation and the results of past inspections to maintain continuity in its safeguards knowledge for the time being, but the situation now is far from normal. And just yesterday we learned that the Agency has stopped receiving remote data transmission from safeguards monitoring systems installed at Chornobyl. We look forward to learning the causes and implications of this change, and in particular whether it results from a loss of communications or electric power stemming from Russian military action. Again, we call for Russian forces to withdraw from inside Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, and to enable the Agency and the legitimate Ukrainian authorities to safely fulfill their obligations under Ukraine’s safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol.
We also call on Russia to refrain from further action that endangers the security of nuclear and radiological facilities in Ukraine. As one example, the Ukrainian nuclear regulator reports that it has lost communications with institutions in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, including its Oncological Center that uses radiological sources to treat cancer patients. If there is any loss of control of those Category 1-3 sources, Russia would be to blame not only for the safety and security implications, but also the diminished ability of Ukraine to meet critical health needs of its people.
In closing, the United States supports the proposal by the Governors of Canada and Poland to derestrict the resolution adopted at the extraordinary session on 3 March and contained in GOV/2022/17.
We also ask that the Board remain focused on this subject and continue to discuss as conditions warrant.