Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Containment Then And Now: Toward A Twenty-First Century Renaissance In Nuclear Radiation Containment Sarcophagus Construction

"President Viktor Yushchenko was to open an international conference on the Chernobyl disaster in Kiev, two days before Ukraine and its neighbors mark the 20th anniversary of the world's worst civilian nuclear accident.

The Ukrainian leader was expected to call on the international community to continue help funding the clean-up from the accident, which had the most impact on Belarus, Russia and Ukraine but effects from which were felt in much of Europe.

"This misfortune has wide-reaching international consequences" and is not "an exclusively Ukrainian problem," Markiyan Lubkivsky, a top official in the presidential administration, said last week.

The European Union's External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner was to attend the opening of the three-day conference, along with officials from several UN bodies, including its nuclear agency and the World Health Organization.

Several dozen protestors from environmental groups picketed Kiev's opera building where the meeting was to take place.

"Remember Chernobyl, No New Reactors," read one sign held by the activists.

Two decades after a series of explosions ripped through a reactor at a Soviet power plant in northern Ukraine at 1:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986, the accident remains a grim reminder of potential hazards of atomic energy.

The consequences of the disaster are heatedly debated, with the eventual death toll generating the most bitter exchanges.

In a report released last September, the United Nations said that nearly 60 people had already died and another 4,000 would die as a direct consequence of the accident -- a much lower estimate than previously believed.

The Greenpeace environmental group attacked the findings as a "whitewash" and in a recent report of its own, said that the death toll could reach nearly 100,000. Other anti-nuclear groups have come up with higher estimates.

Ukraine says that some five million people were affected by the accident overall, including the 600,000 "liquidators" deployed over the next four years in clean-up works.

Nearly 800,000 hectares (20,000 acres) of prime agricultural land and 700,000 hectares of forest remain ruined in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine as a result of the accident.

The economic costs of the disaster have been staggering, with Ukrainian officials estimating that Kiev alone will have spent 170 billion dollars (138 billion euros) as a result of the disaster.

A new protective 20,000-ton steel case over the entire plant, an international project to which 28 countries have contributed funds so far, is expected to cost between one and two billion dollars.

The covering, to be completed by 2012, is due to replace the concrete sarcophagus that was hastily built over the damaged reactor immediately after the accident and is showing serious signs of wear."

Agence France Presse "Ukraine conference starts Chernobyl 20th anniversary commemorations" via Yahoo.com April 24, 2006



"The explosion and fire at Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor in April 1986 generated extensive spread of radioactive material and a large amount of radioactive waste at the plant site and in the surrounding area. Between May and November 1986, a temporary sarcophagus was built at the site with the goal of quickly reducing on-site radiation levels and the further release of radioactive materials into the environment.

The sarcophagus was erected quickly and under extremely difficult conditions, including the severe radiation exposure of construction workers. Because of efforts to complete the work quickly, imperfections were introduced in the structure. In addition, moisture-induced corrosion over the last 20 years has further degraded the construction. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, "the main potential hazard of the shelter is a possible collapse of its top structures and release of radioactive dust into the environment."

Plans have been developed to create a new structure, called the New Safe Confinement (NSC), over the No. 4 reactor. The NSC is designed to have a 100-year service life, and to allow for the dismantlement of the current sarcophagus and the removal of highly radioactive fuel from the reactor. NSC construction was originally scheduled to be completed in 2005, but has been repeatedly postponed. According to the latest schedule, the work is expected to be finished in February 2008. Actual construction work is expected to begin in the summer of 2006."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty April 20, 2006


... "[A former Ukrainian diplomat] believes that since the closure of the plant's last reactor in 2000, Chornobyl has ceased to be a major political issue in Ukraine, but he does believe it will continue to impact government decisions in the nuclear-energy sphere. He said Ukraine should never forget the potential hazards of operating its 15 nuclear reactors at four power plants.

"We should proceed from the premise that we will have to live side by side with risk. We are taking a risk. And we should be taking a reasonable risk, not the one that might lead, God forbid, to a new Chornobyl-type catastrophe. We should enhance the safety of reactors," Shcherbak said....

Belarus does not have any nuclear power plants and is not planning to build any in the near future. The Chornobyl aftermath seems to persist in the country not only as a grave environmental issue but also a political one....

Since 1989, the Belarusian opposition has managed to organize a "Chornobyl Way" march almost every year. Participants march to commemorate the Chornobyl anniversary and raise public awareness about unresolved problems related to the disaster. Although many of these marches have been dispersed or otherwise thwarted by police, another Chornobyl Way march is expected in Minsk this year on 26 April [2006]."

Jan Maksymiuk and Irena Chalupa "Chornobyl 20 Years After: The Catastrophe's Political Fallout "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty April 24, 2006


Repair work being carried out at the Chornobyl, Ukraine nuclear power plant in October 1986.

Photo credit: European Press Agency via RFE/RL. With thanks.


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