New Sarcophagus Over Reactor 4

  • 06/11/2013
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An ill-fated experiment at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on 26th April 1986 caused a thermal explosion. It became known as the biggest nuclear disaster of the 20th century. It forced people numbering in tens of thousands and living within the 30 km exclusion zone to be evacuated, while hundreds of thousands suffered radiation effects and related illnesses in the following years. This led to the construction of the first sarcophagus in November 1986 that was assembled in a record time of only 5 months.

Back in 1996, radiation levels had risen to 10 000 roentgens per hour, compared to cities with normal radiation levels of approximately 20-50 microroentgens per hour. This warranted the need for a second construction as the original sarcophagus had been damaged beyond repair. Rain water was leaking through the roof and came into contact with radioactive material before dripping into the soil. This posed a serious threat to the environment, based on which a decision was made, together with the international community and with funding from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), to construct a second sarcophagus.

Assembly of the new sarcophagus started in November 2012. At the time of completion, the weight of the new sarcophagus will amount to astonishing 29,000 tons, with dimensions of 108 meters in height, 257 meters in width and 150 meters in length. It will require the input of nearly 3000 engineers and workers. The new Safe Confinement structure is being assembled 200 m from the power plant and will be pulled over the original Chernobyl sarcophagus using a customized rail track. In 2013, the 5300 ton eastern arc was assembled, while the western continued in 2014 and 2015. Forty hydraulic pumps, sitting on 45 meters high specially constructed towers, were used to raise it to the right height. All this was put together in 2016 and created one enormous arc.

Though the first original sarcophagus was meant to last for 30 years - until 2016; repairs and maintenance have been carried out on it repeatedly until as recently as 2011. These reinforcements ensured an additional 15 years to its service life.

The French consortium Novarka is managing the assembly and engineering of the new sarcophagus. The cost of the new sarcophagus has risen to 1.5 billion Euros (compared to originally planned 950 million). Construction workers are from all over Europe, not just Ukraine. This project is the first of its kind and so over 2 million hours had to be spent engineering the project. By the end of November 2016, when it will slide over the old sarcophagus, it will be the largest moveable object on planet Earth. The new sarcophagusshould be completed in 2017 and should cover the destroyed unit no. 4 of Chernobyl nuclear power plant for estimated 100 years.

The idea behind this construction is to prevent radiation from leaking into the atmosphere by stabilizing the plant and extracting the debris containing nuclear fuel. After the new sarcophagus is in place the power plant itself will become safer. Come see the Chernobyl exclusion zone that will be safer than ever before.

The ultimate aim of disassembling the destroyed reactor is, however, still a distant prospect.