30 years on, and Chernobyl is covered

There are many old physicists who would remember the day of the Chernobyl accident back in 1986. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end, when driving home and hearing that the radiation detectors on the Swedish (or maybe Finnish?) nuclear reactor power stations had gone into alarm, because of the incoming radiation fall-out detected.

Then there were the radio-active reindeer, after eating the moss on rocks in Scandinavia, and worse still, Welsh lamb with green dye marks to indicate ‘unfit for human consumption’. Working on a lot of development projects for sensors to be used in the BNFL Sellafield site, it was interesting to see how sheep with green dye marks seemed to be collected and placed in the fields near that site…… nothing if not a subtle comment by the local farmers.

European Reconstruction

The latest news this last month was that the “Chernobyl Arch”, a containment structure designed to enclose the damaged reactor and upgrade the site finally into an environmentally safe and secure state, was moved into position in November. The structure was built on site as part of an international programme, led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and moved to its final position along a 327 meter track, to cover the previous makeshift shelter placed over the exposed core soon after 1986. No mean feat with a weight of 36,000 tonnes. A video of the move and installation is visible on http://www.ebrd.com/news/video/timelapse-video-of-chernobyl-arch-sliding.html

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The constructors

EBRD advise that the structure was built by Novarka, a consortium of the French construction firms VINCI Construction and Bouygues Construction. Work started in 2010, and the cost was Euro 1.5Bn. The arch itself is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built, with a span of 257 metres, length of 162 metres, height of 108 metres. With the sealed installation due for completion by November 2017, it will make the accident site safe, with a lifetime of 100 years; allow for the eventual dismantling of the makeshift Russian built 1986 shelter, and allow the management of the radioactive waste inside. (All assuming no local conflicts blow the place up!)

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EBRD manages the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, and is the major contributor to the Euro 2.1Bn programme: more than Euro 1.5 billion has been contributed from 45 donors to date. This is presumably a good example of International and European co-operation and common sense. With Euro 600m still required, one hopes that the neighbouring countries affected can spare a little more? Chernobyl is in the Ukraine, but the original reactor was of Russian design.

A personal opinion is that this is the sort of project that European and International co-operation should be all about, and being one major build, it probably has not resulted in excessive syphoning off of the funds into dubious pockets!

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PS: I’m also old enough to remember the expressions on the faces of my Mum and Dad when they heard that John Kennedy had been assassinated!

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