The milestone first stage of the new sarcophagus for Chernobyl’s nuclear power station has been completed. The unique construction to safely contain the radioactive emissions of Chernobyl for the next 100 years will be ready by October 2015.
The unprecedented new shelter will be 108m high (equivalent to a 30-story apartment building), 257m wide, and 150m long (almost two football fields). The approximate weight of the structure will be 29,000 tons.
The construction site has been deployed just 200 meters from the existing sarcophagus. Estimated 2,500-3,000 workers and engineers are expected to see the project to completion. Once fully assembled, the New Safe Confinement structure will be pulled over the original Chernobyl sarcophagus of the fourth reactor using a specially designed rail-track.
The first, ‘eastern’ arc of the construction, weighing some 5,300 tonnes, has already been assembled and elevated on necessary height with the help of 40 hydraulic ramps. The ramps are fixed on specially constructed towers 45m high.
Vince Novak, director of the Nuclear Safety Department of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), called the first fulfilled stage a “major milestone”.
“I’m personally very impressed with the progress achieved in the assembly of the new confinement,” Novak said.
The New Safe Confinement (NSC) project is called to replace the original Soviet confinement constructed by November 1986, half-a-year after an ill-fated experiment at Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, ended up with a thermal explosion of the active zone.
The Chernobyl explosion became the biggest nuclear catastrophe of the 20th century. Tens of thousands of people living within the 30km exclusion zone around Chernobyl power station were evacuated; hundreds of thousands suffered from radiation-caused illnesses over the years.
The original confinement was designed to serve for 30 years, till 2016. Though the construction of a new confinement was underway, additional maintenance and reinforcement works of the existing sarcophagus were done in 2011. That added another 15 years of service life to the construction.
The shelter fund established to construct a new sarcophagus for Chernobyl has been sponsored by 28 countries and managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Engineering and assembly of the new confinement, a huge hangar-like structure, is being conducted by French consortium Novarka and largely financed by the EU. The total cost of constructing the NSC is estimated at well over 950 million euro.
Construction crews from France, Italy and Ukraine are working together at the site, while French engineers from Novarka are overseeing the project.
Nicolas Caillé, the project director at Novarka, said nothing similar has ever been constructed in the world.
“The design process has been extremely difficult. We’ve spent over 2 million hours engineering the project. Then there was the production of metal construction. The actual assembly process is much simpler,” Caillé told Euronews.
Initially, the NSC must have been in place by 2005, but the scale of the task caused the project to be postponed for years.
Construction deputy chief Victor Zalizetsky says “the task of this construction is to prevent aerial proliferation of contaminant radionuclides into the environment. Consequently, this will protect Ukraine and European countries from radiation contamination for the next 100 years.”
“Construction of the new confinement is the very first stage to reach the main goal – stabilization of the installation inside the installation and extraction of the debris containing nuclear fuel,” Igor Gramotkin, director-general of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant said at a media briefing.
“I’m absolutely sure the works will be done in time, in accordance with the contract and within the allocated financing,” Gramotkin concluded.
Yet the most challenging task of disassembling the destroyed reactor #4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is a distant prospect.
Dr Carlo Mancini, the chairman of the International Advisory Group (IAG), the scientific supervisor of the NSC project, says a nuclear waste site for safely stocking thousands of tonnes of the radioactive debris from Chernobyl is yet to be constructed.
The final cost of the New Safe Confinement and future nuclear waste site is expected to reach 1.54 billion euro.