Fuelling the Modern Man

Workers race against the clock to contain Chernobyl’s radioactive waste

There are fears a reactor collapse could release deadly levels of radioactive material.

Josh Butler
Published 15th November 2016
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On 26th of April 1986, the world bore witness to the most devastating nuclear disaster in human history when reactor four exploded and issues plumes of radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere.

Although the USSR attempted to cover-up the initial scale of the damage, much of Western Europe was affected by the fallout, and the site of the disaster remains under strict quarantine to this very day.

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A vast sarcophagus was constructed in 1986 in an attempt to enclose the shattered remains of reactor four and shield the surrounding atmosphere from the worst of the radiation.

Trapped on the inside were upwards of 200 tons of radioactive corium, 30 tons of contaminated dust and 16 tons of uranium.

However, over the past thirty years, such has been the strength of the radioactive material, that it is now impossible to gain access to the sarcophagus in order to carry out repairs.

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The original sarcophagus, which is in dire need of repair.

Thus, with fears growing that instability in the reactor could cause further radioactive material to leak from the core, the decision has been made to construct a second arch over the site to fully contain the harmful waste.

Proposed by Ukraine’s Environment Department, and sponsored by The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the project is set to cost a staggering £1.5 billion.

But the cost is not the biggest factor in the containment effort. With a further reactor collapse possible, workers are attempting to seal the area off by November 29th, leaving them only two weeks to complete the massive undertaking.

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The proposed new ‘dome’.

When the Chernoby Nuclear Disaster occurred in 1986, it became the first of its kind to warrant classification as a “level 7 event”. In fact, since then, only the incident at Fukushima in 2011 has come anywhere near to Chernobyl in terms of severity.

The number of deaths remains disputed, with the Chernobyl Forum claiming 50 fatalities, but the cataclysm triggered a series of events across Europe. In excess of 150,000 elective abortions were performed out of fear of radiation poisoning, while the death toll in regards to radiation-induced cancers is estimated to rise to 9,000 over the coming years.

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Reactor four’s control panel.

Either way, thirty years on from the initial disaster, the effect Chernobyl still has on Europe is profound. The quicker it’s further contained, the better.