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.