The EBRD and Chernobyl

By Axel  Reiserer

The EBRD and Chernobyl

The world marks the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl accident on 26 April. Reports from the site will show the almost completed New Safe Confinement, the giant structure constructed to seal the destroyed reactor 4 from the environment. The EBRD has played an important role in this unique feat of engineering as manager of the Chernobyl Shelter Fund and the largest contributor to the project.

The Bank’s involvement in nuclear safety begins in 1993 with the establishment of the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA) for urgent safety upgrades of Soviet-type reactors in operation in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Russia.

At that time reactor 3 in Chernobyl was still in operation. This raised serious concerns and the international community and Ukraine entered into a dialogue how to find a long-term solution that would satisfy the country’s energy needs and security concerns.

The EBRD was tasked by the international community with managing the financing of work to secure Chernobyl, including the construction of the enormous arch which will protect damaged Reactor 4. This is our story.

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As a first step, the NSA funded the first nuclear safety and security projects in Chernobyl in 1995. These later also included the construction of a Liquid Radioactive Waste Treatment Plant (LRTP) and a new Interim Storage Facility (ISF-2) for spent fuel from reactors 1-3.

However, the biggest task was to overcome the legacy of the 1986 accident with the destroyed reactor enclosed only in a temporary structure (“shelter”) erected in the immediate aftermath of the explosion under extremely hazardous conditions. The vicinity of the plant had to be evacuated due to heavy contamination and a 30 kilometre exclusion zone was declared which remains in place to this day.

To assist Ukraine in making the site of the shelter stable and environmentally safe, the international community led by the G-7 and the European Commission established the Chernobyl Shelter Fund (CSF) in 1997. Again, the EBRD was commissioned to become the new fund’s administrator.

The first task of the CSF was to take stock and develop a work programme of how to transform Chernobyl into an environmentally safe and secure environment. Vince Novak, who joined the EBRD after a visit to Chernobyl in 1997 and today is Director of its Nuclear Safety Department, remembers: “The task was so enormous that the most difficult challenge was to define the project.”

Based on recommendations by Ukrainian and international experts, this strategy was outlined in the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP), a step-by-step approach on how to make the accident site safe. The plan defined five central safety goals, one of which led to the design and construction of the New Safe Confinement. However, long before work on the structure could begin, extensive preparations had to be made and implemented ranging from research and engineering for conceptual designs to the development of the site infrastructure and procedures for worker protection.

Overall, the Shelter Implementation Plan includes more than 300 sub-projects, which today have been completed (save for those related to the finalisation of the New Safe Confinement). These include creating the infrastructure for the construction of the NSC, the successful stabilisation of the existing shelter (including the western wall and the transfer of the roof load to the new supporting structure), the removal of the heavily contaminated vent stack, radiological protection and safety measures for the workforce and permanent monitoring and risk assessment for all activity on the site.

The most visible, prominent and final element of the SIP is the New Safe Confinement with a height of 108 metres, a length of 162 metres, a span of 257 metres and a weight of 36,000 tons. The structure has been under construction since 2012 on a clean platform near the existing shelter. In was built in two huge halves which were lifted in 2014 and successfully joined last year. Currently, the arch is being fitted with cranes and other equipment for dismantling and waste management tasks, before being slid over reactor 4 in late 2016.

Once in place, the NSC will seal reactor 4 from the environment and prevent the release of contaminated material from the existing shelter, which houses the remains of the destroyed reactor and at the same time protect the structure from external impacts such as extreme weather. Approximately 5,000 metric tonnes of sand, lead and boric acid dropped from helicopters during the weeks following the accident are mixed with more than 200 tonnes of uranium, forming a lava like mass. These fuel-containing materials remain highly radioactive and represent the most significant radiological hazard at the site. Analyses show that less than 5 per cent of the radioactivity contained in unit 4 was released to the environment during the 1986 accident.

The NSC will provide a safe working environment equipped with heavy duty cranes for the future dismantling of the shelter and waste management. It will be strong enough to withstand a Category 3 tornado (with winds up to 320 km/h) and its sophisticated ventilation system will eliminate the risk of corrosion, ensuring that there is no need to replace the coating and expose workers to radiation risk during the structure’s lifetime of at least 100 years.

The arch is being built by Novarka, a consortium of the two French companies Bouygues and Vinci, in cooperation with a global network of contributors and subcontractors. A total workforce of over 2,000 workers has been in action on the site without any serious accidents. The construction work is overseen by international and local experts. Commissioning of the NSC is expected by late 2017, when the management of future decommissioning works in Chernobyl will be transferred to the Ukrainian authorities.

The total cost of the Shelter Implementation Plan is €2.1 billion, of which the New Safe Confinement alone will come close to  €1.5 billion. The EBRD serves as the fund manager and today is the largest donor. The Bank applies the EBRD procurement rules and regulations for awarding contracts and disburses funds directly to contractors. To date, the Chernobyl Shelter Fund has received contributions and donations from 47 countries and multinational organisations. The ten largest donors are currently

1

EBRD

€498m

2

European Commission

€431.6m

3

United States

€329.5m

4

France

€114.9

5

Germany

€106.1m

6

United Kingdom

€89.5m

7

Japan

€83.8m

8

Italy

€74.2m

9

Russia

€70.3m

10

Ukraine (in cash)

€64.1m

 

In Chernobyl the EBRD is also involved in the Liquid Radwaste Treatment Plant, which retrieves highly radioactive liquids from their current tanks, processes them into a solid state, and moves them to containers for long-term storage. The plant received an operating licence at the end of 2014 and is fully functioning.

The Interim Storage Facility-2 is currently in the final phase of construction and will process, dry and cut more than 20,000 fuel assemblies and place them in metal casks, which will be enclosed in concrete modules on site. Construction works are scheduled to be concluded by the end of 2016. After the plant has received approval by the Ukrainian regulator full processing and storage can commence. The spent fuel will be stored safely and securely for a minimum period of 100 years. The total cost of the ISF-2, paid through the Nuclear Safety Account and a separate grant by the Bank, is €400 million.

 

Instructions for broadcasters:

  1. Video footage


Broadcast quality versions of these packages, as well as drone material, archive, time lapse sequences and animations, can be downloaded from the EBRD’s ftp server (https://download.ebrd.com) in the folder named ‘CHERNOBYL VIDEO’:

Username: videoebrd

And this password: VX0Kpm8m

You may need to tick or untick the java dialogue box

** Mandatory on-screen credit to EBRD **

    Please address any further video queries to boothc@ebrd.com

  1. Photography

Flickr High resolution photographs from the Chernobyl site and Pripyat, including archive shots, can be downloaded

Please credit EBRD.

For specific further requests, please contact doorlyd@ebrd.com

  1. Interviews

EBRD experts Vince Novak, Director, Nuclear Safety, and his deputy Balthasar Lindauer are available for interviews with written and electronic media. For requests, please contact axel.reiserer@ebrd.com or anton.usov@ebrd.com