The IAEA has welcomed the shutdown of all six reactor units at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the UN nuclear watchdog said in a statement. On Sunday, there were further drone strikes on the facility in the worst incident since November 2022.

The IAEA added that the plant started transitioning unit 4 from hot to cold shutdown on Friday morning, in a process that finished at 7.30am on Saturday. This measure was taken after the nearby town of Enerhodar, where most of employees of the plant live, recently ended the winter heating season.

Raphael Mariano Grossi, director general of the IAEA, said: “I welcome this development, which has been recommended by the Agency for some time, as it enhances the overall safety of the facility. The Agency will continue to closely follow the operational status of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and provide technically viable alternatives in a context of rapid changes and challenges.”

Since September 2022, the ZNPP has stopped generating electricity for the national grid, but one of the six units has been in hot shutdown since October 2022 to provide district heating as well as process steam for liquid waste treatment at the site.

Earlier this year, the plant started operating four new diesel steam generators to produce steam for treatment of the liquid waste. Reactor unit 4 remained in hot shutdown to help keep Enerhodar warm, but now that this is no longer necessary, unit 4 has joined the five other reactors in cold shutdown.

Although risks have been managed at the ZNPP, the statement released by the IAEA stressed that the situation remains “extremely fragile”.

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“The decision to have all six units in cold shutdown is positive in itself, as the cooling down of the reactor provides an additional buffer in case of an accident – but it doesn’t address the fundamental issue of a recent sharp deterioration of the situation at the plant. Without a doubt, nuclear safety and security at this major nuclear facility remains very precarious,” Grossi said.

Last week, the plant was hit by drones, causing damage to one of the six reactors. The IAEA reported minor superficial damage including scorching on the reactor dome roof of unit 6 and marks on a concrete slab supporting the primary make-up water storage tanks.