Chernobyl caps toxic site, 30 years later

Hugs, high-fives and Chernobyl are three terms that have never been remotely near each other, until this week.

For those who recall the terrifying news that shook the world on April 26, 1986, when the worst nuclear power plant accident in history occurred in northern Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union), it is jarring to see the actual good news that took place there yesterday. More than 30 years after a radioactive explosion directly killed some 30 plant workers, and poisoned countless residents in the contaminated area — the dead zone today still covers roughly 1,000 square miles! — a broad team of international responders this week finally slid a massive, 36,000-ton, $1.5-billion arch over the main reactor site. The still-ambitious goal is to make Chernobyl environmentally safe and secure by November 2017.

In the 1980s, local population had exceeded 50,000. As of 2010, that estimate had dropped to just 500.

“The Chernobyl arch is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built”

— European Bank for Reconstruction and development

“The Chernobyl arch is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built,” says the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which is funding the overall $2.1-billion program to build, install, secure and perpetually test the New Safe Confinement. About 500 ft long, 800 ft wide, and 350 ft high, the arch “will make the accident site safe and with a lifetime of 100 years allow for the eventual dismantling of the aging makeshift shelter from 1986, and the management of the radioactive waste.”

Built by Novarka, a consortium of French contracting giants VINCI and Bouygues Construction, the giant structure is just one element of the Shelter Implementation Plan for Chernobyl, which involved more than 300 projects, according to fund manager EBRD. Work started on the arch in 2010 and this week it was moved the last 1,000 ft into place atop the stricken reactor. The program is financed by the Chernobyl Shelter Fund. Started in 1997, it is supported by 45 donors to date, led by the 24 listed below.

“Let the whole world see today what Ukraine and the world can do when they unite, how we are able to protect the world from nuclear contamination and nuclear threats,” said Ukrainian President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine this week.

Ironically, such East-West cooperation was all but unimaginable 30 years ago.

For more details, click here to visit EBRD’s event coverage. Below, drone footage from earlier this month.