Chernobyl Cleanup: No End in Sight
April 26, 1986 at 1:23AM the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant blew up after operates botched a safety test, triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster to date. Radioactive remnants continue to smolder inside the so-called sarcophagus, a concrete and steel encasement hastily erected after the accident. Only intended to be temporary, it is leaky and structurally unsound. Scientists agree that it will ultimately give way, shaking loose enough radioactivity to cause a second disaster of even greater magnitude.
For years, desperate efforts were underway to shore up the sarcophagus and protect its roof from collapsing. Some areas inside are so contaminated that workers – despite wearing protective gear and respirators – can only work one 15-minute shift per day. Today, new scaffolding and support beams are holding together the decrepit assembly and the leaning Western Wall.
After years of negotiations, the French Novarka Consortium was commissioned to build a New Safe Confinement, estimated to cost $2.2 billion. The arch-shaped 29,000 ton metal structure, 105 meters high and spanning 257 meter wide, will eventually slide over the existing edifice to allow deconstruction of the ailing shelter. It will also lock in the approximately 200 tons of melted nuclear fuel rods, keeping the lethal remnants from endangering the globe.
Before new construction could begin, contaminated equipment and soil needed to be removed. Clean up was finished in 2010, but radiation monitoring continues. In order to provide an indestructible base for the New Safe Confinement, 396 enormous metal pipes are being hammered 25 meters deep into the ground. Afterwards rails will be placed to slide the new confinement over the reactor.
In the past, the completion date for the confinement has been pushed back repeatedly. Recently, the ERBD announced that the funding is short $850 million, which could bring the construction to a halt. Even with full funding in place, completion is now re-scheduled for 2015, but officials and engineers on the ground expect it not before 2020 – but say so only off the record.