Chernobyl gets a new hat

At the same time as enthusiasm is growing for the use of nuclear fission as a non-greenhouse gas emitting energy source, the crumbling concrete tomb around the Chernobyl reactor is to be encased in steel, at an approximate cost of $1.4 billion. The doomed reactor will be covered by “a giant arch-shaped structure out of steel, 190 metres (623 feet) wide and 200m long.” Of course, it is only a matter of time before the new carapace will need to be replaced, in turn.

The Chernobyl disaster occurred back in 1986. Despite causing widespread contamination, about 95% of the radioactive material initially present remains within the site of the reactor complex. A motorcycle-riding photographer named Elena has put some haunting photos of the abandoned area on her website.

Just yesterday, Dr. Patrick Moore (co-founder of Greenpeace) urged the more widespread use of fission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As ever, there are three big problems with nuclear fission: waste that will be dangerous for a span longer than the existence of civilization thus far, the possibility of catastrophic accidents, and the connection between civilian nuclear capability and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is certainly becoming less clear-cut that nuclear is a worse option than the alternatives. For one thing, new reactor designs like the South African pebble bed promise to reduce the chances of accidents. On the proliferation side, there is talk of fuel supplier countries taking back spent rods, as protection against their plutonium being extracted and used for bombs. Of course, that just worsens the nuclear waste situation. The fact that it is all sitting in ‘temporary’ reactor ponds and that no state has constructed a permanent geological storage facility for radioactive waste should continue to give us pause.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

27 thoughts on “Chernobyl gets a new hat”

  1. See also: Zone of Alienation

    The Zone of Alienation, which is variously referred to as The Chernobyl Zone, The 30 Kilometer Zone, The Zone of Exclusion, The Fourth Zone, or just The Zone (Ukrainian official designation: Зона відчуження Чорнобильської АЕС, zona vidchuzhennya Chornobyl’s’koyi AES, colloquially: Чорнобильська зона, Chornobyl’s’ka zona оr Четверта зона, Chetverta zona) is the 30 km/19 mi exclusion zone around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. Geographically, it includes northernmost parts of Kyivs’ka oblast’ and Zhytomyrs’ka oblast’ of Ukraine, and adjoins the country’s border with Belarus.

  2. Making EU climate goal ‘unlikely’

    The European Union’s goal of keeping the global temperature rise to 2C is unlikely to be met, a leading climate researcher has warned.

    Professor Martin Parry told BBC News that millions, if not tens of millions, would be at increased risk to their lives from a rise above 2C (3.6F).

    Professor Parry co-chairs the impacts working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

  3. Your posts are too damn good again – I burnt my rice trying to catch up. Will probably end up posting way too many on Facebook. Many thanks for the information/stimulation.

  4. Tom, the new cover is designed to last a 100 years, which probably means it will be good for about 30.

    At least they didn’t wait until the present sarcophagus was breached.

  5. American energy utility NRG Energy is planning to build two reactors for nuclear power in Texas. Its application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to construct the reactors marks the first such request in the United States for three decades.

    Meanwhile, Italy is reversing a 20-year post-Chernobyl moratorium on nuclear fission research to participate in the scientific development of ‘Generation IV’ nuclear reactors. How exactly the country will contribute to the Generation IV research has not yet been revealed. The planned next generation of nuclear power plants is intended to improve nuclear safety and to minimize waste and natural-resource use compared with the current generation of plants.

  6. Chernobyl: Leaking radiation and sucking up Canadian money

    Doug Saunders

    Kiev — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Tuesday, Feb. 02, 2010 10:17PM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Feb. 03, 2010 4:49AM EST

    Almost a quarter-century after its explosion killed hundreds and shocked the world, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor still sits crumbling amid an uninhabitable wasteland in northern Ukraine, still emits surprising amounts of radiation, and still absorbs vast amounts of money.

    Much of that money, at least $71-million of it, has come from Canadian taxpayers, intended to pay for a project launched in 1997 under a pledge from leaders of the G-7 countries to enclose the reactor in a permanent, sealed sarcophagus.

    It was meant to be finished in eight years and cost $768-million (U.S.), a symbol of a resurgent Ukraine returning to democratic government and an open economy, putting the 1986 disaster permanently in the past.

    But in a story of tragic disappointment that exemplifies the web of corruption and distrust that so often ensnares relations between Ukraine and the West, 13 years later the cost of the project has ballooned to almost $2-billion and construction has not even begun.

    Canadian officials describe it as a “money sink” that has fallen prey to the worst aspects of Ukraine’s failed development, a physical manifestation of the once-wealthy country’s political decay.

  7. Instead of providing information, the Soviet propaganda machine was busy battling the foreign media. Moscow News, a propaganda sheet published in a dozen languages, ran an article headlined “A Poisoned Cloud of Anti-Sovietism”. It denounced “a premeditated and well-orchestrated campaign” aiming to “cover up criminal acts of militarism by the USA and NATO”. Foreign journalists were prevented from travelling to Ukraine. The KGB classified all information, not only about the disaster but about the illnesses caused by it. Forty-one men died as a result of the explosion and the meltdown of the reactor; a WHO study ultimately found it had caused about 4,000 premature deaths.

  8. At 2:30 on Saturday afternoon someone finally called the institute to report an accident at Chernobyl. In the early hours after midnight, Chernobyl Reactor Number Four had run away in four seconds from 7 percent of maximum rated power to about one hundred times maximum rated power, an event called a prompt critical excursion that had flashed the reactor’s thousands of gallons of circulating water to high-pressure steam. The graphite core of the massive concrete-encased reactor was an enclosed cylinder forty feet in diameter and twenty-three feet tall, set on end, with blocks of concrete and a water pool beneath it to absorb the fierce radiation its zirconium-clad uranium fuel elements produced, and a two-million-pound, disk-shaped upper biological shield of concrete blocks set over it like a lid to protect workers from radiation exposure. In the same spirit of bravado that had prompted the scientists at Los Alamos during the Second World War to nickname the atomic bomb they were building the “gadget,” the men who operated the RBMKs called the upper biological shield thepyatachok, Russian for one of the smallest Soviet coins, the five-kopek piece. When the water flashed to superheated steam and the reactor’s steam pipes started exploding, an eyewitness reported later, thepyatachok “began to bubble and dance.”

  9. End walls in place for Chernobyl cover

    Construction has been completed of the dividing walls between units 3 and 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, against which the New Safe Confinement (NSC) over unit 4 will be placed. Completion of the new cover is scheduled for November 2017.

  10. Chernobyl arch moved into place in historic engineering feat

    The process of sliding the arched structure into place to shield the damaged unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant started today, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said. London-based EBRD described the milestone at the plant in Ukraine as “one of the most ambitious projects in the history of engineering”.

  11. Engineers enclose radioactive remains of Chernobyl 4

    The process of sliding the arched structure into place to shield the damaged unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine has been completed, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has announced. London-based EBRD said a ceremony in Chernobyl today marked the successful conclusion of the sliding operation, which it described as a key milestone before finalisation of the international program to transform Chernobyl into an environmentally safe and secure state by November 2017.

  12. Ukraine confident of world-class fuel storage facility

    Energoatom President Yury Nedashkovsky has confirmed progress in Holtec International’s preparations to build a Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF) at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Between 1 and 10 May, Nedashkovsky led a delegation from the Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator to Holtec’s plants in Pittsburgh, (Pennsylvania), Orrville (Ohio) and Camden (New Jersey).

    The CSFSF will be a dry storage facility in which the used fuel will be stored in double-walled stainless steel canisters. The facility will mean Ukraine will no longer have to spend $200 million each year on its arrangement with Russia to transport and reprocess used nuclear fuel.

  13. Chernobyl confinement structure nears completion

    Installation of critical systems is progressing within the New Safe Confinement (NSC) covering the damaged unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The enormous arched structure was put in place one year ago and is expected to be commissioned in the first half of 2018.

  14. Final testing of Chernobyl used fuel store

    Final system-wide trials began yesterday of the new dry interim used fuel storage facility at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The facility is expected to be handed over to the state-owned enterprise Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP) in the coming months.

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