US Warns Russia Against Handling Sensitive Nuclear Technology in Ukrainian Power Plant

The United States government has cautioned Russia against meddling with sensitive US nuclear technology present at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. The warning was conveyed in a letter sent by the US Department of Energy to Russia's state-owned nuclear energy company, Rosatom, last month.

The letter, dated March 17, 2023, and examined by CNN, was penned by Andrea Ferkile, the director of the Energy Department's Office of Nonproliferation Policy. Ferkile informed Rosatom's director general that the nuclear power plant in Enerhodar contains "US-origin nuclear technical data that is export-controlled by the United States Government." The US implements export controls on goods, software, and technology to prevent potential threats to national security interests.

   A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict outside Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, October 14, 2022.  - CNN

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in Europe, is currently under Russian control after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. The power plant has experienced frequent disconnections from the Ukrainian power grid due to intense Russian shelling in the region, causing widespread concern over a potential nuclear accident.

Although Ukrainian staff still operate the plant, Rosatom manages it. The Energy Department's letter emphasized that it is illegal for any Russian individuals or entities to handle the US technology. CNN contacted Rosatom for a statement but received no response.

The letter highlighted that unauthorized persons, including Russian citizens and entities such as Rosatom, are prohibited by US law from accessing, possessing, controlling, exporting, storing, seizing, reviewing, re-exporting, shipping, transferring, copying, or manipulating the technology or technical data without authorization from the US Department of Energy.

It remains uncertain whether Rosatom has replied to the letter. However, the National Nuclear Security Administration under the Energy Department confirmed the letter's authenticity. The US Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy has been transparent about its support for the Zaporizhzhia plant. In June 2021, the office stated on its website that the US had helped implement new maintenance procedures and operations at the reactor to enhance energy security in Ukraine.