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The explosion and release of radioactive material at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986 represent the worst disaster in the history of nuclear energy.
The accident caused the deaths, within weeks, of some 30 workers at the Chernobyl plant and radiation sickness in over 100 others. Thousands of cases of thyroid cancer in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia in the decades since are also likely to be the result of exposure to radiation from the incident.
Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the neighbouring regions neighbouring the destroyed reactor and the nearby town of Pripyat is still deserted. A 19 mile (31 km) closed ‘zone of alienation’ surrounds the plant to this day, its only inhabitants a handful of residents who have refused to leave.
The accident, its subsequent cover-up by the authorities and their response to it, the wider questions it raised about safety and operating standards at the plant and the damage it inflicted on the Soviet Union’s prestige all contributed, indirectly, to the collapse of the USSR five years later.
The impact of the Chernobyl disaster stretched far beyond Ukraine and the neighbouring Soviet republics. Contamination from the accident spread across most of Europe and, indeed, it was the Swedish, not the Soviet, authorities who at the time first raised the alarm about an unexplained spike in radiation levels.
The Chernobyl disaster is one of only two classified as a (maximum) level 7 (major disaster) event on the IAEA’s International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, the other being the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.
The disaster bequeathed a costly legacy to Ukraine’s authorities when the country gained independence, whether in the treatment of those affected by radiation or managing the site of the plant itself or storing fuel from its operations.
The last of its four reactors was decommissioned in 2000 but significant work to make the site safe remains. The so called sarcophagus, hastily built to seal the reactor which exploded and its contents, will eventually be replaced by a new structure, the New Safe Confinement.
The Interim Storage Facility 2 will provide safe and secure storage of spent nuclear fuel from the plant’s past operations and replace a facility dating from the Soviet period.
The EBRD manages the two funds which finance these vital projects.
The New Safe Confinement will provide a lasting defence against the leak of radioactive material from the reactor which exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. When completed, Chernobyl’s New Safe Confinement (NSC) will also represent an extraordinary feat of engineering, tall enough as it will be to house New York’ Statue of Liberty and being assembled offsite and then slid into position.
The NSC will enclose both the remains of reactor number four and the ‘sarcophagus’ which was hastily constructed after the original disaster under a huge arch and thus prevent water or snow seeping into the site and dust dispersing from it.
The NSC will also counter corrosion and weathering of the so-called sarcophagus and the reactor and provide further protection from the possible collapse of the two existing structures.
Its two bridge cranes with a lifting capacity of 50 tons each will also allow unstable elements beneath the arch to be dismantled or processed in safety.
The arch frame is a huge lattice construction of tubular steel members built on two longitudinal concrete beams. Overall the structure measures 164 metres long, is 110 metres high and has a span of 257 metres. It will weigh 29,000 tons.
The NSC’s construction is financed via the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, which the EBRD manages on behalf of the Group of Seven (G7).
The work is being carried out by the Novarka consortium, made up of Vinci Construction Grands Projets and Bouygues Construction, and the NSC’s assembly should be finished in 2015.
The total cost of the programme to make the site safe is €1.54 billion.
The Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility 2 will provide long-term storage for more than 20,000 spent fuel assemblies from the three Chernobyl nuclear reactors which were not involved in the 1986 disaster but have since been decommissioned.
Spent fuel is currently kept in an interim wet storage facility built in Soviet times (ISF 1) and in cooling ponds in the reactors themselves. Their presence there ensures that full dismantling of the reactors cannot begin in earnest.
The conditions in which the fuel is stored do not conform to modern standards and it seems unlikely that the facility’s licence will be extended when it expires in 2016.
A contract to design and complete the facility was signed with the US company Holtec International in September 2007.
Chernobyl’s Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility 2 is funded by the Nuclear Safety Account, set up by the Group of Seven (G7) to provide financial support for safety assessments and short term safety upgrades of old Soviet-designed nuclear power plants and managed by the EBRD.
Reports, videos, speeches
Speech: EBRD President speaks on anniversary of Chernobyl
Feature: Chernobyl 25 years on
Factsheet: Chernobyl 25 years on
Safe confinement facility
Chernobyl shelter fund
Remarks by Hans Blix, former head of International Atomic Energy Agency
Last updated 14 August 2012
Vince Novak, EBRD Director of Nuclear Safety, talks about the Bank's work in this sector, including its key role in working to secure the site of the Chernobyl accident.
The EBRD assists in the safe treatment of waste and power plants.
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