Ireland calls for ‘maximum restraint’ around nuclear facilities in Ukraine

Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency will hold extraordinary meeting

Ireland has joined the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in calling for "maximum restraint" to avoid any actions that may put nuclear facilities at risk amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Vienna-based IAEA will hold an extraordinary meeting of its board of governors to discuss the nuclear safety, security and safeguards implications of the conflict on Wednesday.

Ireland was elected to the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors last September for a two year term. Wednesday's meeting will be attended by the Ambassador to Austria Eoin O'Leary. Other members of the board include the Russian Federation and the United States.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is the lead Government department for responding to any radioactive incidents.

A spokesman said: “Ireland joins the IAEA in urging maximum restraint to avoid any action that may put Ukraine’s nuclear facilities at risk.

“Any attack or threat against peaceful nuclear facilities is a violation of the principles of the UN Charter, international law and the IAEA statute.”

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four locations and it is home to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site.

Russian forces took control of Chernobyl last week and there were reports of higher radiation measurements in the vicinity. Ukrainian authorities said this may have been caused by heavy military vehicles stirring up soil contaminated by the accident there in 1986. The IAEA assessed that the levels of radiation were still low and did not pose a danger to the public.

In recent days Ukraine also told the IAEA that missiles hit the site of a radioactive waste disposal facility in Kyiv but there were no reports of damage to the building or any indications of a radioactive release.

Aggressive statements

Separately, on Sunday Russian President Vladimir Putin put his country's nuclear forces on high alert in response to Nato members making what he termed "aggressive statements" about Russia.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications spokesman said there are currently no plans to activate the provisions of Ireland's National Emergency Plan for Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Exposures or to convene the National Emergency Coordination Group (NECG) but the situation is being closely monitored.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also said to be monitoring the "evolving situation in Ukraine in relation to nuclear safety implications" and is in contact with the IAEA and national authorities in other European countries in watching for "any increases in exposure levels". The EPA maintains a 24-hour permanent radiation monitoring network.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times