Chernobyl: a site transformed

Chernobyl in Ukraine is the site of the world’s worst ever nuclear accident. The 1986 explosion of unit 4 of its nuclear power plant destroyed the reactor hall and caused the release of radioactive material.

The incident caused huge damage in the immediate vicinity and had severe impact beyond. The emergency services’ response took place in extremely perilous conditions under extraordinary time pressure.

Over the past 30 years, thanks to the initiative of the international community and together with Ukraine and the active help of the EBRD, Chernobyl has been transformed. The construction of a giant new structure is complete. The so-called New Safe Confinement now encloses the shelter which was built in the aftermath of the accident as a temporary measure.

The New Safe Confinement makes the site safe and allows for the dismantling of the aging shelter and management of the radioactive waste within the Shelter. Work on this unique undertaking is expected to be completed in 2018.

The EBRD was tasked by the international community with managing the Fund finances which work to secure Chernobyl, including the construction of the enormous arch which will protect damaged Reactor 4.

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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The 1986 explosion caused the deaths, within weeks, of some 30 workers and firemen at the plant and injured many others. Its long term impact on the health of others is the subject of debate to this day.

Some 200,000 people, including all of those living in the nearby town of Pripyat, were evacuated from regions neighbouring the destroyed reactor. A 30 km (19 mile) closed ‘exclusion zone’ was imposed which is still in place.

The accident led to a review of nuclear safety standards and regulatory processes in many countries and the acknowledgment that international cooperation in this field is critically important. The EBRD’s involvement in nuclear safety programmes and in Chernobyl projects is a direct consequence of this.

The disaster bequeathed a costly legacy to Ukraine’s authorities when the country gained independence in 1991, whether in the cost of managing the site, the decommissioning of units, the loss of agriculture land, health screening or pensions for victims of the accident.

The EBRD has been assisting Ukraine to address the challenge of making Chernobyl safe and secure since it was first invited by the country and the G7 to manage dedicated donor funds in 1995. These efforts include:
  • The Chernobyl Shelter Fund finances activities to transform the site of unit 4 and create safe and stable conditions at the plant as outlined in the so called Shelter Implementation Plan. Its ultimate goal is the construction of the New Safe Confinement to enclose the shelter currently housing the destroyed reactor and its radioactive inventory in its entirety.
  • The New Safe Confinement represents an extraordinary feat of engineering. The structure - 108 metres high, 162 metres long and with a span of 257 metres – has now been slid into position.
  • The project was carried out by the French companies, Bouygues and Vinci. All work on site was carried out under strictest health and safety regulations by a specially trained workforce whose radiation exposure was permanently monitored. There was no single case of exposure beyond permissible limits. The entire Shelter Implementation Plan is expected to cost €2.1 billion and be completed by the end of 2017. It is funded by contributions from more than 40 countries, the European Commission and the EBRD.
  • Decommissioning any nuclear power plant is a challenge. In Chernobyl, where the last unit was shut in 2000, it is further complicated by the fact that it takes place in a contaminated area. The EBRD-managed Nuclear Safety Account finances two crucial facilities required for this process: the safe and secure storage of spent fuel from units 1 to 3 and the treatment of liquid radioactive waste.
  • The Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility will process the spent fuel assemblies, place them in Double Walled canisters and enclose them in concrete modules on site for a minimum period of 100 years. This work is being carried out by the US company Holtec and is scheduled for completion in 2017. The facility is expected to cost around € 380 million. The international community is currently considering further contributions to ensure the completion of the storage facility.
  • The Liquid Radioactive Waste Treatment Plant retrieves highly active liquids from their current storage tanks, processes them into a solid state and moves them into containers for long-term storage. The plant is complete and ready for operation.

Transforming Chernobyl is a long-term challenge. It is a huge undertaking which will only be accomplished thanks to the sustained commitment of the international community and Ukraine.

To date, close to €2.5 billion has been received for EBRD-managed Chernobyl projects from 45 donors. The EBRD contributes €715 million of its own resources in support of the work to transform Chernobyl into an environmentally safe and secure site.