April 12, 2024 | Policy Brief

­IAEA Condemns Drone Strikes on Russian-Occupied Ukrainian Nuclear Plant

April 12, 2024 | Policy Brief

­IAEA Condemns Drone Strikes on Russian-Occupied Ukrainian Nuclear Plant

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi on April 11 condemned three recent drone strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), although it remains unclear who perpetrated the attacks. Moscow’s ongoing occupation of the ZNPP has rendered it a major flashpoint in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

Grossi delivered remarks before an emergency meeting of the agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors in Vienna. Russia and Ukraine called the irregular meeting to dispute one another’s accounts of the attacks. In a letter circulated by the IAEA, Russia accused Ukraine of kamikaze drone attacks and included photographs of the incident. Ukraine denied perpetrating the attacks, calling them “a provocation” designed to denigrate Ukraine.

The attacks marked the first military action against the plant since November 2022. The IAEA has teams present at five Ukrainian nuclear facilities to oversee nuclear safety and security amid Russia’s occupation, including the International Support and Assistance Mission to ZNPP, which enables the agency to investigate and report on events.

Grossi, who has typically avoided assigning Russia or Ukraine blame for events involving the ZNPP, again declined to name a perpetrator. “Whoever is behind them, they are playing with fire,” he warned.

The IAEA reported on April 7 that one drone strike involved a direct hit to the top of one of the reactor’s containment vessels, where the drone appeared to target surveillance and communication equipment. The IAEA said Russian engagement led to the drone’s downing. The IAEA reported that two other drone strikes hit an adjacent training facility and may have caused one casualty.

While it is thus far unclear who was responsible, the Russian military’s occupation of the ZNPP since March 2022 has regularly threatened the safety and security of the plant and risked causing a radiological incident.

The IAEA reports that the ZNPP has on at least eight occasions completely lost connection to off-site power, which could threaten the reactors’ ability to cool and function in a safe manner. The Russian military or members of the FSB, Russia’s security service, have reportedly committed atrocities and intimidation of Ukrainian workers that remain on-site, and a team from Russia’s Rosatom Corporation assisted in the plant’s illegal takeover and supports operations.

Grossi appealed to both sides to avoid high-risk actions, including attacks from or against the plant, using it for storage of heavy weapons, jeopardizing access to off-site power, and acts of sabotage.

The IAEA board, for its part, has passed five resolutions demanding Moscow vacate ZNPP while rejecting Russia’s claims of ownership.

It is well past time for IAEA member states to enforce a standard of zero tolerance and penalize Russia for its actions. During a special session or at the next IAEA board meeting in June, member states should issue an ultimatum for Moscow to vacate the plant or, at a subsequent meeting, face suspension of Russia’s rights and privileges to vote and hold office at the IAEA.  

The Biden administration and the European Union have also waited far too long to sanction Rosatom for its role in the ZNPP takeover. They should directly sanction Rosatom, its leadership, and subsidiaries, and articulate a strategy to wind down and eliminate all domestic and foreign business with the conglomerate.

The safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant may depend on it.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow and deputy director of the nonproliferation and biodefense program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. For more analysis from the author and FDD please subscribe HERE. Follow Andrea on X @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


International Organizations Nonproliferation Russia Sanctions and Illicit Finance Ukraine