Ukraine handed keys to Chernobyl’s ‘new safe confinement’ building

The keys for the ‘new safe confinement’ structure erected at the site of the former Chernobyl nuclear power station were symbolically presented to Ukrainian authorities on 10 July.

The event marked completion of the latest effort to secure the facility’s fourth reactor, which was destroyed in the 1986 disaster.

The new confinement structure – a giant arch constructed in two halves near the accident site and slid over the damaged reactor – was built between 2010 and 2016 at a cost of €1.5bn. Some 45 donor institutions and countries financed the project, which encloses the original ‘sarcophagus’ that used to contain the molten core of the reactor. An estimated 200 tonnes of radioactive material are still present at the former power station.

Construction of the sarcophagus started just 24 days after the disaster. However, extremely high levels of radiation created a hazardous environment for workers, who were tasked with rapidly assembling the structure. Ultimately, doubts about the shelter’s structural soundness – and a lack of proper design or documentation – meant that it could not be a long-term containment solution.

With a length of 162 m, a height of 108 m and a total weight of more than 36,000 tonnes, the new arch-shaped confinement shelter is the largest moveable structure ever built on land. It is also the most significant component of the €2.1bn Shelter Implementation Plan, which includes the completion of infrastructure and safety projects at the Chernobyl site.

The delivery of the plan, and the new safe confinement, has been financed via the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)’s Chernobyl Shelter Fund, which was established in 1997.

The ceremonial handover of keys to the confinement building was attended by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as the EBRD Director for Nuclear Safety, Balthasar Lindauer. The structure has a design lifetime of 100 years and has been equipped with a crane system for future dismantling work.

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