The Chernobyl Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP) provides a step-by-step strategy for decisions required to develop a programme to make the site of the 1986 nuclear accident safe.
The New Safe Confinement is the most prominent and most visible part of the Shelter Implementation Plan.
The giant arch-shaped structure – tall enough to house London’s St Paul’s cathedral – was constructed in a cleared area near the shelter in two halves which were joined in mid-2015. In late 2015 and early 2016 the two bridges of the large crane for future dismantling activities were installed inside the arch, before the structure was moved into its final position in November of the same year, making the New Safe Confinement the largest moveable land-based structure ever built.
The New Safe Confinement represents an extraordinary feat of engineering with a height of 108 metres, a length of 162 metres, a span of 257 metres and a lifetime of a minimum of 100 years. It provides a safe working environment equipped with heavy duty cranes for the future dismantling of the shelter and waste management.
However, before work on the New Safe Confinement could start, other important projects had to be completed.
Given the extremely dangerous conditions that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the 1986 accident, the shelter housing the destroyed unit 4 was an extraordinary achievement.
But the speed with which it was put together, the levels of high radiation that dogged the work, the lack of proper design or documentation for the shelter and doubts about its structural soundness meant that it could not be a long-term response to the risks at the site.
The first phase of the Shelter Implementation Plan, the development of which was funded by the United States and the European Union and drafted by Ukrainian and international experts in 1997, focused on the engineering work required to define conceptual solutions for confinement and stabilisation and on a strategy for fuel-containing materials in the shelter.
The first stage of the programme also saw the completion of crucial infrastructure projects, roads, utilities and other facilities which were prerequisites for safe work at the Chernobyl site.
Workers’ health and safety were a high priority from the outset. A state-of-the-art changing facility with a capacity for 1,430 workers was built providing modern medical and radiation protection facilities and an ambulance.
In addition, the Chernobyl Shelter Fund provides training facilities, radiation monitoring and medical equipment as well as a medical screening programme.
One of the early priorities was to assess the state of the existing shelter and minimise the risk of its collapse. Critical stabilisation work inside and outside the structure took place amidst high radiation and risk of collapse and required very careful planning and implementation.
Until the shelter was finally enclosed by the New Safe Confinement, two huge steel structures stabilising the western wall of the old shelter and carrying 80 per cent of the roof's load were the most visible landmarks of the stabilisation work. This very hazardous project was successfully completed in 2008.
Another important milestone was the installation of a system which integrates radiation data, information on the structural integrity of the old shelter, measurements of seismic activities and other parameters important for the safety on site and for the operation of the New Safe Confinement.
Day-to-day work on the Shelter Implementation Plan at the Chernobyl site is overseen by the Project Management Unit (PMU), formed of experts from Bechtel, the US engineering and project management company, and the staff of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The entire Shelter Implementation Plan is expected to cost €2.1 billion. It is funded by contributions from more than 40 countries and organisations.
The EBRD is providing €715 million of its own resources to support Chernobyl projects including the New Safe Confinement.