The eighth wonder of the world: a new sarcophagus over the Chernobyl reactor

For the construction of a new sarcophagus forThe Chernobyl nuclear power plant took two decades. It is larger than Wembley Stadium and above the Statue of Liberty, above the Trinity Tower of the Kremlin and almost as tall as the Great Pyramid of Cheops. He must seal the crash site for 100 years. Recently, many world leaders have gathered to stare at a hundred-meter-tall sarcophagus (so to speak). Further, the story of an eyewitness - BBC correspondent Christian Boris.

A welcoming tent was erected right outside the gateChernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat in Ukraine. There are many windows in the tent so that everyone can see everything with their own eyes. All the guests here are observing the final stage of 30 years of cleaning work since the time when one of the station's reactors exploded in 1986. The Chernobyl disaster is still a dark spot on nuclear power. And other serious incidents, such as the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2012 - the only other incident that scored a maximum of seven points on the International Nuclear Event Scale - only exacerbate the Chernobyl event.

This accident also launched a chain of reactions and measuresto ensure nuclear safety worldwide. All this place needs to be enclosed in a huge structure, a sarcophagus that seals and seals some of the most hazardous waste in the world for at least 100 years.

It took more than twenty years forcomplete the process. One of the guests of honor was Vince Nowak, director of nuclear safety at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Novak was 30 years old when all this happened. Now he is over 60, and he came to observe how the work of his whole life literally takes its place.

A giant structure weighing 35,000 tons next towe spent the last few days in a series of final preparations. Sarcophagus - New Safe Confinement, or Shelter-2, is quite high. But it looks more like a huge metal shed or hangar.

And its appearance indicates its historical significance. The NBK is not only the largest of the objects that people have ever moved, it is also a symbol of what we can do when the stakes are very high. It is hoped that this sarcophagus will draw a line under this catastrophic chapter in the history of nuclear energy. But when for the first time in the 90s the idea was put forward to create this gigantic building on the uninhabited land of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant - where the radiation level is still dangerously high - people thought it was crazy.

But this is far from the strangest sentence,which Novak heard. Over the years of working on the project, he received thousands of far-fetched appeals. “The craziest offer I heard actually came to me a couple of days ago. The Russian scientist wrote to us by e-mail and suggested that he knew how the station could be restored. ”

This does not happen. On April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded during routine tests. The fire raged for nine days. The protective shell of concrete and steel collapsed, and the superheated fuel melted the floors and went into the base. A burning reactor threw radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere. Radioactive fallout went through all of Europe right up to Scandinavia - but Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, of course, suffered the most.

Shortly after the accident, Hans set off for ChernobylBlix Blix will later become better known as the acting chairman of the United Nations commission responsible for disarming Iraq with its weapons of mass destruction in the 2003 war. But at that time, he was the chief director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), based in Vienna, Austria. He was one of the first high-ranking officials not from the Soviet Union, who had the opportunity to see Chernobyl after the disaster.

“Then I could not imagine such a structure”,Blix told me when we were standing near the sarcophagus. “I flew over this place in a helicopter and could only think: what a terrible tragedy. "Black smoke rose in place of burning graphite, and I tried to figure out what to do at the IAEA."

Many politicians did not believe the officialreports of the Soviet government, which wanted to protect the reputation of its nuclear energy program. Blix knew that his organization was to become the main source of objective information. When he went on stage in Moscow to tell the world about the scale of the disaster, his team began to gather technical experts who could understand what to do next.

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At the same time, the Soviet Union sent dozenspeople - for the most part poorly equipped and poorly trained - to carry out emergency stripping. The first team was tasked with taking control of the fire at the plant. It took nine days, and at least 28 people were known to have died as a result of radiation during this time.

These men and women became famous throughoutThe Soviet Union as liquidators. Last year, I managed to spend two days with a group of liquidators who arrived in Chernobyl to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their stay here.

They served as firefighters in Ivano-Frankivsk - in 600kilometers from Chernobyl - when the accident occurred and received notifications calling the scene of the accident. Then none of them had any idea what was really going on. The group I talked to says that they worked on the deactivation of the third and fourth reactors. Then they helped build the structure that kept the radiation so far.

It took 206 nightmare days to build the firstsarcophagus, 400,000 cubic meters of concrete and 7300 tons of metal frame. “We worked in three shifts, but only for five to seven minutes, because of the danger that was then,” says group leader Yaroslav Melnik. "At the end, we threw clothes into the trash."

A total of about one million men and womenfrom all over the Soviet Union participated in the initial purification and containment process. Helicopters flew over the reactor, dropping sand, lead and other substances to extinguish a fire and prevent radiation leaks. Miners dug the ground under the reactor core so that liquid nitrogen could be pumped under it and the nuclear fuel could be cooled.

Others cleaned up contaminants andevacuated the civilian population. Thousands of liquidators died during this work. And they suffered even more from terrible long-term illnesses from acute radiation exposure.

Despite the heroic efforts of the liquidators,the first sarcophagus was never conceived as a long-term solution. But until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the true state of affairs remained unclear. In that chaos, the IAEA quickly implemented a project to study all the details of Soviet reactors.

He became the technical basis on which the wholethe rest of the world began to solve this problem. A few months after the Soviet flag fell over the Kremlin for the last time, Ukraine launched an international competition of ideas on how to make Chernobyl safe again.

The victory went to the French consortium with his“Decision” plan, which included putting the entire Soviet-built sarcophagus with a damaged reactor inside into a completely new structure. But the checklist for this assignment was amazingly complex.

And he had to be complicated. The sarcophagus should have stood for at least 100 years. And it was to be built not far from a highly radioactive place without risk for workers, and after it was moved to its final location, something so huge was moved farther than ever.

Ten years after the disaster process,finally went. In July 1997, G7 leaders met in Denver and agreed to invest $ 300 million in the project. A few months later, US Vice President Al Gore, President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma and President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development met in New York for an official transfer of money. “This meeting marked the beginning of the pedigree of this entire event,” says Novak.

The first step of the project was to strengthenexisting sarcophagus so that it does not collapse prematurely. All ten years after the accident, the only thing that prevented the further destruction of the reactor was this concrete structure, which was hastily erected in terrible conditions for several months after the accident. The radiation level inside is estimated to be up to 10,000 x-rays per hour, 20 times the lethal dose. The structure was in poor condition, but it could not be patched with simple repairs.

“All the proposals were to take into account radioactive contamination,” says Novak. Protecting workers was a top priority. The last thing anyone wanted was to ruin even more people.

The number of opinions complicated the process even more. “Hundreds of people made decisions, including engineers, regulators, and politicians,” he says. "Some of them had their own ideas, some were guided by the plans of others."

However, Novak says that pessimism is in himIt never happened. And all thanks, in part, to a special team of 12 nuclear experts from around the world, led by Carlo Mancini from Italy. The members of this group were not subordinate to a particular government or organization, and after the approval of international representatives, their decisions could not be reversed for any reason.

However, it took another 10 years toprepare a place for a new structure. “We thought we should avoid collapse by any means, because collapse could create an extremely complex, if at all possible, work environment,” says Mancini.

How bad everything was, they realized only when they started working in 1999. The whole structure was built using helicopters, the pieces were dropped one on top of the other and were not fastened together.

“They just lay there, and very quickly becameit’s clear that either the walls are moving or the whole structure is moving. Another inch - and the whole structure could crumble like a hut. It was possible to destroy the entire structure. ”

Novak recalls how difficult it was forall involved stage. Both the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the project managers felt that the working conditions were completely inadequate. But the risk of doing nothing was even higher. And they decided to intervene and, possibly, prevent another disaster in Chernobyl.

Meanwhile, work continued on a newsarcophagus. The French consortium Novarka received a construction assignment, and in 2004 the Ukrainian government approved the design. To minimize the effects of radiation on workers, Novarka decided to build a large structure 300 meters from the scene of the accident and then move it to the right place as soon as it was ready.

Sarcophagus segments were actually built andpre-assembled in Italy. They had to be sent by sea to Ukraine, and then delivered by truck to Chernobyl. It took 18 ships and 2,500 trucks to complete this monumental move. The main frame lined up in place at the end of 2014. By that time, 28 years had passed since the Chernobyl disaster. Ukraine has already gone through two revolutions and was on the verge of a full-scale war.

Over the next two years, an internalpart of the sarcophagus, including an advanced ventilation system and remotely controlled robotic cranes that will eliminate the existing structure and the Soviet-built structure and reactor after sealing.

On November 29, 2016, the giant hangar moved to the last place in which it will spend 100 years. 30 years and seven months have passed since the same explosion.

The project involved more than 10,000 people. Mancini says he is very pleased with the result. And proud of his participation. His professional career had just come to an end, and this is a cherry on a cake. Many of those who were in this tent for guests share the feelings of Mancini. For Novak, the construction of this tomb was akin to building a new wonder of the world.