A PLAN to bury the crippled Chernobyl nuclear reactor in a hole a kilometre deep has been proposed by Ukrainian researchers. They suggest digging a hole next to the plant and letting it fall in a controlled manner before covering and sealing it with rubble and concrete.
Western experts have reacted with alarm to the idea, which is being put forward by four respected research institutes in the Ukraine with the support of figures in the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.
Since the accident in April 1986, which sent plumes of radioactive material across Europe, Chernobyl's stricken reactor Number 4 has been encased in a concrete "sarcophagus", which has showed signs of becoming unstable.
Western nuclear engineers brought in to advise the Ukrainian government have suggested that the sarcophagus - which was built in a hurry six months after the accident - should be replaced or strengthened so that it would last another 100 years, by which time much of the radioactivity inside would have decayed.
A Russian plan put forward two years ago to create a giant monolith by filling the entire sarcophagus with concrete was abandoned after safety assessments showed there was a hidden risk from missing nuclear fuel believed to be still inside the building.
Now some Ukrainian scientists have criticised the Western plan, believing the foreign grant of $758m (pounds 470m) will end up being spent on Western firms and consultants rather than Ukrainian workers.
Instead they want Ukrainians to dig a giant grave for the sarcophagus that would be big enough to bury the 50-storey tower block at Canary Wharf and still have room to spare. The Kryvbasproekt Institute in Ukraine is promoting the idea, which also has the support of the Ukrainian Scientific Centre for Environmental Radiochemistry, the Mining Construction Institute and the Institute of Construction Technologies.
Dmytro Hrodzynskyy, a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, says in the magazine Nuclear Engineering International that geological research in the region will assess the risk of ground-water contamination.
"The Academy of Sciences will be performing some drilling next year to study the issue. We should not forget earthquakes either ... But we have to support this idea in general; it is very promising," Mr Hrodzynskyy said.
Emlen Sobotovych, another academician who backs the proposal, said the Western plan of strengthening the sarcophagus envisages removing the radioactive contents gradually.
Of the four reactors at Chernobyl only one is still working and that is due to be shut down next year when the power plant is scheduled to stop producing electricity.
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