Next week will mark the 30 year anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine. After the plant’s No. 4 reactor exploded in 1986, the entire surrounding city of Pripyat was evacuated, leaving an eerie ghost town like nowhere else in the world.
But work around the nuclear plant never stopped, and recently entered an urgent new phase.
During the rush to contain the radioactive release from Chernobyl after the meltdown, Soviet workers built a so-called sarcophagus around the reactor building using concrete and steel. It was intended to keep nuclear waste from escaping into the atmosphere and meant to last 30 years. Now, according to an AP report, it is showing signs of serious wear and tear.
To address this quickly emerging issue, a $2.3 billion project funded by international donors and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is racing to stop potential new leaks.
Near the now derelict No. 4 reactor, hundreds of workers are laboring to build a massive hut-shaped structure that will be moved on rails to cover the aging sarcophagus. Once installed, robotic machinery will dismantle the sarcophagus and reactor and then gather the waste, which will be moved into a storage facility. This whole process is slated to begin next year.
"The arch is now at its full height, full width and full length — 108 meters (354 feet) tall, 250 meters wide and 150 meters long. It will act as a safe confinement over the No. 4 reactor, and it's planned to last 100 years ... to give Ukraine a chance to dismantle the No. 4 reactor and make it safe forever," David Driscoll, director of safety for the French consortium Novarka that is building the shelter, told AP.