Engineers Are Constructing a Giant Steel Lid to Contain Chernobyl’s Radioactive Core

The arch-shaped lid will protect against radioactive dust should Chernobyl’s decaying facilities collapse

Photo: Roman Pilipey/Demotix/Corbis

Almost 30 years since the nuclear accident at Chernobyl left the surrounding land so saturated with radiation that scientists calculate that centuries will pass before humans can safely live there again. The damaged facility still poses a risk, though, and to ensure that the radiation stays contained should the facility collapse, engineers are building a massive steel lid around the reactor, reports The New York Times.

Here's the Times with more on the project: 

An army of workers, shielded from radiation by thick concrete slabs, is constructing a huge arch, sheathed in acres of gleaming stainless steel and vast enough to cover the Statue of Liberty. The structure is so otherworldly it looks like it could have been dropped by aliens onto this Soviet-era industrial landscape.

Until the arch is in place, the risk of collapse remains — a point brought home last year when a section of the roof over the turbine hall, next to the destroyed reactor, collapsed, resulting in a small release of radiation.

If all goes as planned, by 2017 the 32,000-ton arch will be delicately pushed on Teflon pads to cover the ramshackle shelter that was built to entomb the radioactive remains of the reactor that exploded and burned here in April 1986. When its ends are closed, it will be able to contain any radioactive dust should the aging shelter collapse.

The massive construction project will cost an estimated $1.5 billion, according to the Times, and was paid for by the U.S. and 30 other countries. (The project is still a few hundred millions short of its required funding goal.) The steel lid will last for at least 100 years, although it could stand for up to 300 if not replaced before then, engineers told the Times. It's going to be so big, Newsweek reports, that "according to the British technology journal The Engineer, it 'is one of a handful of buildings that will enclose a volume of air large enough to create its own weather.'" It's not a perfect solution, but it's better than risking another disaster, and another round of abandoned landscape and mutated wildlife

Oh, and it could also help keep the increasing number of tourists safe. Newsweek reports:

There were 870 visitors in 2004, two years after the Ukrainian government allowed (some) access to the Exclusion Zone. Today, the Kiev-based tour company SoloEast says it takes 12,000 tourists to Chernobyl a year, which accounts for 70 percent of the pleasure-visitors heading there (including myself). I even stayed at a luxury hotel of sorts, a neo-rustic cottage that featured towel warmers and a sign that said, "Please keep your radioactive shoes outside."


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