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Ukraine: Sacrophagus and possible restart Unit 2

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(January 24, 1997) The construction of the sarcophagus started in June 1986, almost two months after the April nuclear disaster: the first 60-cm thick concrete wall was finished on August 8, 1986. The wall sticks 30 meters in the ground to prevent groundwater leakage. At the same time, construction of a new foundation below the molten reactorcore was established.

(465.4616) WISE Amsterdam -However, because of the enormous time pressure under which the building was done (the severe radiation, the haste to finish it before winter, and the haste to restart the three other reactors), many construction errors have been committed. Moreover, the structure was not meant to survive hundreds of years. The sarcophagus cannot resist an earthquake of more than 6 on the Richter scale. Such quakes occur at a frequency of once in a hundred years in the Chernobyl region. One of the walls is slowly tilting to the outside and corrosion is in progress on many sites. One part of the roof is supported by the wrecked reactor. The quality of the concrete and steel is bad in many locations. Trough a number of holes in the structure, rainwater comes in and leakes in the ground. Birds fly in and out.

In the town of Slavutych, Ukrainian officials and experts from G7 (the seven richest countries) held two days of talks about the future of the whole Chernobyl complex: shut down the units still in operation (3 and 1, which were closed on November 30) and the problems generated by the sarcophagus.

At a news conference on December 17, 1996, Ukraineþs Environment Minister Kostenko said the Ukraine needs about 70 years to make the sarcophagus safe. About 15 years are needed to get funds and to get the whole site closed. Then about 50 years will be needed to remove and process the crumbling and disintegrating fuel left in the reactor. The costs are unknown, according to Kostenko.

The international G-7 team of experts present at the conference in Slavutych is not in favor of the English and French plan to construct a new leak-free sarcophagus over the old one because that would cost well over 1 billion dollars. A Russian team of the Kurchatov Institute proposes to fill the structure with concrete and wait several centuries before intervening inside the reactor.

The international experts, asked by the European Commission, propose to extract only accessible fuel-containing materials, and to wait 500 years before taking out the remaining nuclear material. When all this is undertaken in the next 50 years, the experts argue this will cost a few billion dollars. The 500 years could be bridged by embedding reactor 4 in sand rising over 40 meters high. This sand-tomb could be performed within four years, according to the international experts. But Ukraine has rejected this proposal.

According to Nucleonics Week, Ukraine is planning to restart unit 2 after the new rotor of the turbine from the never-finished unit 5 is built in. Unit 2 is off-line since a turbine hall fire in October 1991. On November 16, 1996, the government issued a confidential resolution on start-up of Unit 2, a project estimated to require about $85 million. On November 29, the Ukrainian state nuclear committee GCA said it forsaw the restart of Chernobyl-2 in the fourth quarter of 1997. GCA Chairman Victor Chebrov believes that the operation of unit 2, in addition to unit 3, will generate revenue to fund work on the sarcophagus, as well as work on unit 1. Refurbishment of unit 2 is supposed to be financed from the state budget.


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