Chernobyl’s giant New Safe Confinement (NSC) on November 29 completed a crawling 327-metres journey into position over the remains of the reactor block wrecked in an explosion 30 years ago, enclosing a crumbling shelter assembled immediately after the world’s worst nuclear accident.
The 36,000-tonne structure took 15 days to cover the distance, propelled on rails by 224 hydraulic jacks.
The historic event was attended by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, diplomats from more than 40 countries that donated to the €1.5bn project, representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) – the main donor and financial administrator – and the French consortium Novarka that led the unprecedented construction project.
“The New Safe Confinement in Chernobyl is a feat of engineering that will ensure optimal safety conditions for the Ukrainian people for the next 100 years,” said Nicolas Caille, project director at Novarka.
"We welcome this milestone in the process of the transformation of Chernobyl as a symbol of what we can achieve jointly with strong, determined and long-term commitment," added EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti.
The Chernobyl arch is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built, with a span of 257 metres, a length of 162 metres, and a height of 108 metres. It will make the accident site safe and with a lifetime of 100 years allow for the eventual dismantling of the makeshift shelter from 1986 and the management of the radioactive waste. Construction of the NSC began in 2010.
The Chernobyl accident was caused by a botched test at the Soviet power plant located 140 kilometres north of Kyiv. The blast sent clouds of nuclear emissions billowing across large areas of Europe, forced more than 50,000 people to evacuate their homes and poisoned unknown numbers of workers involved in the clean-up. One hundred people died during and immediately after the accident, while hundreds and possibly even thousands more have died from the effects of the radiation.
A concrete sarcophagus was quickly built over the ruptured reactor to contain the worst of the radiation, and to this day it covers some 180 tonnes of enriched uranium, 70,000 tonnes of contaminated metal scrap and glass-like waste and 35 tonnes of radioactive dust.
With the NSC in place the reactor will now be fully sealed and cranes within the shelter used to gradually dismantle the sarcophagus.