The ‘Terrorism of Ukraine’ or ‘Russia has not attacked anyone’ are the theses that are heard not only on Russian television but also at the highest diplomatic level. On September 25, the 67th session of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will begin, during which the safety of the Zaporizhizha Nuclear Power Plant will be discussed. Russian ‘diplomats’ have published comments on the resolution project proposed by Ukraine’s supporters. And, of course, they repeated typical myths about Ukraine and the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. VoxCheck has analyzed the main disinformation narratives that Russia spreads in international organizations.
Narrative 1. Ukraine terrorizes the ZNPP
Quote: “In 2022, the Armed Forces of Ukraine shelled the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, its infrastructure, and the satellite city of Enerhodar for many months.”
This is false. In 2022, it was Russia that shelled the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, its infrastructure, and Enerhodar.
So, on March 4, 2022, due to shelling by Russian forces, a fire broke out in the training building at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, and the first power unit was hit. By March 14 of the same year, Russian military personnel detonated some ammunition on the station’s premises.
On July 12, the mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, reported artillery shelling of the city by Russian forces. According to the head of Enerhodar, the main goal was to sow panic among the population and to use the concentration of people leaving the city as a “human shield”.
On July 20, Russian media reported that the Ukrainian Armed Forces allegedly struck the nuclear power plant, injuring 11 employees. Later, the press service of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine reported that the Ukrainian military destroyed a Russian tent camp near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. This was also confirmed by Bellingcat analyst Wim Zwijnenburg through satellite imagery.
On August 6, 2022, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was attacked with multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS). They hit the area near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, right next to the on-site dry storage for spent nuclear fuel. By August 8, Russian media reported the location from which the Ukrainian side allegedly shelled the station with MLRS. Later, “Enerhoatom” confirmed that the Russian military actually carried out the shelling.
How Russia lied about the ZNPP in 2022, read in the article “From “It does not Smell like Chornobyl here” to “Ukraine is Blackmailing Russia and the EU.” The evolution of Russia’s Manipulations about the Shelling of the ZNPP»
Narrative 2. Russia does not pose a threat to Ukraine’s nuclear facilities
Quote: “Russia has not taken and is not taking any violent actions against peaceful nuclear facilities. Confirmation of this is contained in the relevant reports of the Director General of the IAEA.”
This is false. After the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, Russia repeatedly posed threats to the safety of nuclear power plants in Ukraine. For example, the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant was under occupation for five weeks. During this time, the enemy damaged the central analytical laboratory and the automatic system for monitoring radiation levels and destroyed archives. After the deoccupation of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, noted that the seizure of the plant by Russian forces was “absolutely abnormal and very, very dangerous” and could have led to a disaster.
In September 2022, Russian forces also shelled the industrial zone of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant. Citing data from “Enerhoatom,” the IAEA noted that three power lines and windows were damaged as a result of the attack, but three reactors continued to operate in normal mode, and the workers were unharmed. The press release also pointed out that this situation clearly demonstrates potential threats to other nuclear facilities in the country.
However, the greatest threat to Ukraine and the world is the seizure of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant by the Russians. In August 2022, Grossi stated that the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant had “completely out of control” because the occupation of the facility disrupted the supply chains for the necessary components to ensure uninterrupted operation, and the staff was under pressure from the Russian military. The report published by the IAEA on September 5, 2022, mentioned the presence of “military personnel, vehicles, and equipment” in the turbine halls of power units No. 1 and No. 2 (point 39, page 13).
According to experts, all seven principles of nuclear safety had been violated because of the Russian occupation. Specifically, the physical integrity of the facility has been compromised due to shelling, creating challenging working conditions for the personnel and leading to a deterioration in the quality of radiation monitoring. Communication with the plant has become unstable, and supply chains have become more complicated. The report also mentioned disruptions in the operability of the safety system and damage to power sources (point 5, page 4). In November 2022, the Board of Governors of the IAEA adopted a resolution calling on Russia to withdraw its troops and personnel from the plant.
The IAEA reports for 2023 indicate that the seven nuclear safety principles still have not been adhered to. In May, the IAEA noted an increase in military presence at the facility and continued shelling.
Independent expert on nuclear energy and safety, former member of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, Olha Kosharna, explains in a comment to VoxCheck that Russia had a plan for the simultaneous occupation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant (SUNPP) from the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The Russians attempted to reconnect the ZNPP to the Unified Energy System of Russia to supply electricity to Crimea and other occupied territories in the south. To achieve this, the occupiers restored the high-voltage power line from Crimea to the Kakhovska substation at the end of July 2022 (which had been damaged in December 2015). A key role in the process was to be played by the system operator of Crimea and the Dzhankoiska substation. To cover the operation, the Russian military began shelling the 750 kV power lines connecting the ZNPP to the Unified Energy System (UES) of Ukraine on August 4, 2022.
However, “something went wrong”. Support structures of the restored power line to Crimea by the occupiers were suddenly damaged in the territory of Kherson Oblast, followed by the burning of the Dzhankoiska substation. The blowing up of the dam at the Kakhovska Hydroelectric Power Station made it impossible to operate the ZNPP due to the lack of sufficient water for reactor cooling at full capacity. According to Kosharna, the dam explosion was not coordinated by the Russian military with “Rosatom”.
Therefore, currently, the ZNPP does not make economic sense for “Rosatom”. It is only being used as an instrument of nuclear blackmail against Ukraine and the world to intimidate them with a radiation incident, in order to halt the advance of Ukrainian forces in the south. The ZNPP is now being used as a military base for the placement of military equipment, ammunition, and Russian military personnel, as the Ukrainian Armed Forces will by no means release it through shelling or storming.
Narrative 3. Russia does not prevent the access of IAEA experts to the ZNPP
Quote: “The safety of the Agency’s experts is a priority for Russia, and we are not willing to expose their lives to unjustified risks. All necessary access is provided to the extent that is objectively possible and within the professional competence of the IAEA.”
This is false. Since the beginning of the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Russia has systematically obstructed the IAEA’s mission, as attested by the organization itself. For example, in July 2023, the IAEA mission arrived at the ZNPP to verify the presence of explosive materials. However, Russia did not grant access to Units 3 and 4, where explosive materials could have been present. On July 24, 2023, IAEA experts reported that they were still awaiting permission from the Russians to inspect Units 3 and 4. Ultimately, they were unable to access them. Additionally, the Russian occupational administration does not provide consistent permission for IAEA representatives to access the ZNPP facilities, so experts are forced to wait for verification for approximately 2-3 days each time. In their recent reports for September 2023, the IAEA once again urges Russia to allow inspections of the roofs in Units 1, 2, 5, and 6, as well as simultaneous inspections of all turbine halls.
Previously, Russia also blocked the rotation of IAEA personnel at the ZNPP and jeopardized their safety. As early as 2022, “Enerhoatom” noted that Russia did not allow IAEA employees into the crisis center of the ZNPP, where Russian military personnel were located at the time. Furthermore, occupiers jammed mobile communication and internet in Enerhodar, preventing anyone from transmitting photos and videos from the ZNPP.
The obstruction of the IAEA’s activities at the plant is confirmed by other international organizations. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to withdraw its troops from the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and provide full access to the IAEA mission for inspecting the station. The EU statement at the Board of Governors of the IAEA noted that Russia did not allow the mission to inspect certain reactors or turbine halls at the ZNPP. The EU emphasized that Russia is blatantly violating its international obligations under the resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors.
Narrative 4: There are no third-party individuals, including military personnel, at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant
Quote: “The call for the ‘urgent withdrawal of all unauthorized military and other personnel from the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant’ is indeed incorrect. There are no third-party individuals or military personnel at the plant. Russian forces at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are represented solely by the National Guard (not armed forces) and the troops of radiological, chemical, and biological protection (RCB).”
This is manipulation. Russian military personnel and third-party individuals are constantly present on the territory of the ZNPP. Moreover, the IAEA notes that the maintenance of the plant’s operability and safety is the result of efforts made by Ukrainian operational personnel. In contrast, the presence of military personnel and equipment, as well as representatives of “Rosatom,” complicates their work. Therefore, the organization recommended continuing to operate the system according to the project and removing military equipment from areas where it may interfere with equipment operation (page 14).
Russia also lied regarding the military personnel: servicemen include citizens who serve not only in the armed forces but also in other military formations. According to Russian legislation, the National Guard is a military organization.
Furthermore, the mentioned troops of radiological, chemical, and biological protection are directly part of the Armed Forces of Russia. Russia contradicts itself: firs, it says that there are no military personnel at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), and then it names two military structures that are located there.
Olha Kosharna explained that according to Ukrainian legislation, nuclear power plants are considered objects with controlled access. All ZNPP personnel undergo special checks, and typically, the deputy director of the NPP for physical protection is checked by the Security Service of Ukraine. The presence of third-party individuals and weapons at the NPP is unacceptable because there are nuclear materials on its industrial site, which are subject to accounting and control under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, monitored by IAEA inspectors. The technologies of the plant must be protected from malicious and unqualified actions that could lead to a technogenic accident with radiation consequences.
Narrative 5: Russia pays sufficient attention to the safety at the ZNPP
Quote: “State supervision in the field of atomic energy use is carried out on the site of the Zaporizряhia Nuclear Power Plant under constant supervision from the Russian regulatory body — Rostechnadzor.”
This is false. Even if we ignore the aforementioned facts — the limited access for experts at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the shelling of Enerhodar, or the presence of military personnel at the station — there is more than enough evidence to show how Russia undermines the security of a nuclear facility.
So, Russia obstructs the work of Ukrainians who maintain the operation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. According to the President of “Enerhoatom,” 822 Ukrainian nuclear workers continue to operate at the station, but 2083 employees are not allowed to their workplaces. Moreover, those who remain are subjected to pressure. According to an investigation by the organization “Truth Hounds,” Ukrainian employees have been intimidated, abducted, and tortured. There is at least one confirmed case of an employee who worked as a diver at the station being tortured to death.
The new personnel recruited by the occupiers cannot guarantee the safety of the plant. Oleh Korykov, Acting Chairman of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, asserts that Russia and Belarus are gathering and sending workers to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant who do not have the appropriate qualifications to work there. Additionally, Russia not only abducts people but also equipment: due to the dismantling or theft of equipment and the disabling of some computer systems, the physical security system at the station requires restoration. The occupiers have almost completely destroyed the emergency preparedness and response system at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Therefore, Russia can be seen as a guarantor only of danger.
Olha Kosharna explains that Putin’s decree of October 5, 2022, on transferring the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant into Russian federal ownership and creating an operational organization within “Rosatom” with an address in Moscow, envisaged the operation of Ukrainian licenses for the operation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and personal licenses of the staff until January 1, 2028. According to the decree, by this date, the licenses must be reissued according to Russian legislation. In 2022, the IAEA issued three resolutions of the Board of Governors with demands for the release of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and its transfer under Ukrainian control. The IAEA and other countries consider the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as the property of Ukraine and do not recognize the legitimacy of its transfer to Russian ownership.
The Russians claim to care about the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and are ensuring regional and international security. However, the only thing that truly concerns the aggressor is the ability to engage in nuclear blackmail against the world and inflict damage on Ukraine. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Russia has repeatedly threatened nuclear facilities (and even hinted at nuclear strikes) and has used the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as a tool of pressure on Ukraine and the international community. The Royal United Services Institute stated, “Under the current circumstances, the plant is likely to be more useful to Moscow as a source of leverage and a means of sowing public anxiety than as a giant dirty bomb.” In other words, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is just as much a hostage as Ukrainian citizens and peaceful cities under Russian occupation.
Olha Kosharna concludes that, evidently, the international community has not found any mechanism for the deoccupation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Russia has violated the norms of international conventions regarding the conduct of war, combating nuclear terrorism, countering hostage-taking, and all international conventions in the field of nuclear and radiation safety. Attempts by the Director-General of the IAEA to establish a safety zone around the ZNPP (an initiative first voiced in September 2022) yielded no results over the course of a year. At the end of May 2023, he once again announced five principles for ensuring the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which included the absence of military equipment on the premises, a ban on shelling from and at the plant itself, but this also did not yield any results. Russia has not complied with any resolution of the IAEA. For the first time, the world faced the seizure of an operating large nuclear power plant and demonstrated complete impotence in countering nuclear terrorism.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations