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New Coffin for Chernobyl

DW staff (kjb)September 18, 2007

Ukraine has signed two deals to build new protective coverings around the remains of Chernobyl. An explosion at the nuclear power plant in 1986 caused one of the world's most disastrous nuclear meltdowns.

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor with its shield
The existing sarcophagus is leakingImage: picture-alliance / dpa

The French consortium Novarka on Monday entered an agreement with Ukraine to construct a massive shield around Chernobyl over the next four to five years. The structure will seal the radioactive remnants on the site.

The arch-shaped metal covering, measuring 105 meters (345 feet) tall by 150 meters (490) long, should entirely enclose the existing sarcophagus. It had been hastily constructed in the months following the April 26, 1986 accident and has shown signs of leakage.

Meant to last a hundred years, the shield is to provide an environment suitable for the disassembly of the nuclear power plant within.

"Chernobyl will not exist anymore" by the end of the shell's lifespan, said Yves-Thibault de Silguy, chairmen of Vinci, one of the French firms in the Novarka consortium. "The end goal of the shield is to allow for [Chernobyl's] dismantling."

The Chernobyl accident site is pictured here in 1996
The Chernobyl accident site is pictured here in 1996Image: picture-alliance/dpa

In a second deal also signed Monday, Ukraine commissioned US-based nuclear specialist Holtec International to build containers for radioactive fuel still on the site.

"We are talking about a unique project for this planet," said Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko. "The danger linked to the site of the accident is not confined to Ukraine's borders."

In a statement, Yushchenko called the multi-million dollar project "a great historic event."

Greenpeace has qualms over shield

Environmentalists disagreed with the plans, however.

"The biggest problem for us is stopping the flow of contaminated coolant into the environment," Tobias Münchmeyer from Greenpeace told DW-WORLD.DE. In his opinion, the planned metal dome was not the best use of funds, he said.

The Ukrainian government and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have estimated that as much as 95 percent of the original radioactive material still exists within the reactors. Yet Greenpeace said that most of the radioactivity was released at the time of the accident and in the following years.

The environmental organization has also disputed the number of deaths directly related to the meltdown over two decades ago. According to Greenpeace estimates, 93,000 people have died or will die of cancer caused by the Chernobyl accident. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on the other hand, has counted only 4,000 deaths.

Shared financial burden

The EBRD will primarily finance and oversee the sarcophagus project. The bank will administer grants from 28 donor countries and the European Union.

Nearly $2.5 billion have been committed to the project already, according to German news agency DPA. The exact price of the project is still unclear.

Workers in protective gear near Chernobyl
The "liquidators" were the first to enter the plant after it explodedImage: GRS

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