Fears over new leak at Chernobyl spark plea for radiation shield

 

Chernobyl

Fears that the destroyed nuclear reactor at Chernobyl could collapse and again leak deadly radiation have prompted European agencies to seek hundreds of millions of pounds to fund the construction of a vast steel building to encase the site.

As the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in history approaches, there is a funding shortfall of €740m (£631m) for projects to build a "shelter" over the destroyed reactor and to safely store nuclear fuel from the other nuclear reactors at the site.

The new shelter for the destroyed reactor is being funded by the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in co-operation with the Ukrainian government, but European officials say they urgently need countries to pledge money for the project, which is under way but underfunded. They hope that a conference in April, ahead of the anniversary of the disaster, will see governments donate the missing funds.

Jean-Paul Joulia, the head of the EU's Nuclear Safety Unit, said during a visit to the site last week that the EU had contributed about €500m to various projects at Chernobyl, more than half of that for the new shelter. The alliance is now hoping that individual European governments, and Russia, will stump up more cash for the project.

The explosion at Chernobyl's Reactor Number Four occurred on 26 April 1986. About 30 people were killed instantly, and it is estimated that another 4,000 died prematurely in the aftermath, while many more still suffer health effects from the radiation. In the months after the accident, a "sarcophagus" of concrete was hastily erected over the destroyed shell of the reactor, with many of the workers involved being subjected to life-threatening doses of radiation to get the work done.

In recent years, the structure has become extremely unstable, with experts warning that if it collapses, a catastrophic amount of radiation could be released into the atmosphere. Stopgap stabilising work on one of the walls of the sarcophagus has reduced the chances of collapse and extended its life by around 15 years, but this might not be enough to prevent a disaster.

"Even after the stabilisation activity, there's still potential for the partial or complete collapse of the object shelter," said Laurin Dodd, the head of the Shelter Implementation Plan at Chernobyl. "It's only once we get the new structure in place that we can say it's safe."

The new shelter will be the largest moveable structure ever built, and one of the world's biggest buildings, at over 108 metres high, 257 metres long and 164 metres wide. Work on the shelter has already begun in an area adjacent to the reactor; when it is finished, it will be slid into place, completely encasing the old reactor.

Even today, there is a 20-mile "exclusion zone" around the Chernobyl power plant where inhabitation is prohibited. The other reactors at Chernobyl remained in use until 2000.

Mr Dodd said that once the shelter was in place, work would begin using cranes and other automated technology to dismantle the old reactor inside. He said human intervention would be kept to a "strict minimum" but admitted that some people would nevertheless be subjected to dangerous doses of radiation. The new shelter is designed to be safe for 100 years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This children's clothing compan...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Carpenter / Joiner

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading manufacturer...

Recruitment Genius: Cabinet Maker / Joiner

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This bespoke furniture and inte...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones