Amid speculation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russia in the south and east of the country, several reports have emerged regarding an evacuation of residents from the town of Enerhodar, home to staff from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP).
As of Saturday (6 May) operating staff remain at the facility, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which is monitoring the situation on the ground. IAEA experts at the site are continuing to hear shelling on a regular basis, including late on Friday (5 May).
The Zaporizhzhia NPP is the largest nuclear site in Europe, occupied by Russian forces in east Ukraine since 2022.
“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous. I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant. We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment. This major nuclear facility must be protected. I will continue to press for a commitment by all sides to achieve this vital objective, and the IAEA will continue to do everything it can to help ensure nuclear safety and security at the plant,” said Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA.
The IAEA experts were not able to visit Enerhodar in recent days. However, they have received information about the situation regarding the evacuation in the town. It is part of a wider temporary evacuation in the region reportedly announced on Friday, IAEA said.
Yuri Chernichuk, the NPP’s Site Director has publicly stated that operating staff are not being evacuated and that they are doing everything necessary to ensure nuclear safety and security at the plant, whose six reactors are all in shutdown mode. Plant equipment is maintained in accordance with all necessary nuclear safety and security regulations, according to Mr Chernichuk.
Russian authorities are preparing to evacuate around 3,100 staff from areas in and around the site, Petro Kotin, President of the site’s legal operator, Energoatom told The Washington Post on Monday (8 May). The plant pullout is being planned as occupying Russian authorities evacuate civilians from communities around the facility, he added.
Russia plants explosives at the site
On 2 May, the IAEA said that Russian troops placed explosives and other military equipment at the facility’s power unit 4. In July and August last year, heavy military equipment (ammunition, weapons and explosives) was also installed in the engine rooms of power units 1 and 2.
Last week, Ukraine’s State Atomic Energy Regulatory Commission received unconfirmed information about the storage of equipment, weapons and explosives in other production areas of the nuclear site, including in repair and mechanical workshops and on the roofs of power units.