The UK has contributed to international remediation efforts at Chernobyl since the early 1990s, when the G7 group of leading nations committed to support countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in making safety improvements to their Nuclear Power Plants. This was expanded in 1995 to provide specific assistance to Ukraine for the closure of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and in 1997 to include a commitment to transform the existing shelter – built as a temporary measure over the destroyed reactor Unit 4 following the accident in 1986 - to a stable and environmentally safe state.
International remediation efforts at Chernobyl are managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and funded through two accounts: the Chernobyl Shelter Fund (CSF) and the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA). To date the UK has contributed over €115 million to these funds, including a contribution of £28.5 million announced at the Pledging Conference in Kyiv on 19 April 2011, and in recent years has led efforts to encourage further donations from other countries – including hosting a pledging conference in 2005 which raised $200 million.
There are two main strands of remediation activity at Chernobyl:
- the provision of treatment facilities for radioactive waste and interim storage for spent nuclear fuel, to support safe decommissioning of reactor Units 1-3
- the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP), designed to transform the existing arrangements at the destroyed reactor Unit 4 to a stable and environmentally safe state
Decommissioning: treatment and storage facilities
Achievements to date include construction of a storage facility for short-lived radioactive waste and a treatment centre for solid radioactive waste. In addition, a contract has been let for construction of low- and intermediate-level liquid radioactive waste. An interim spent fuel storage facility is scheduled for completion in 2014/15, with the delivery of casks for the spent fuel storage continuing for two to three years after, since they are not all required at the same time.
The SIP was developed by international and Ukrainian experts in 1997 and agreed between the G7, EU and Ukraine as a step-by-step solution to the situation at Chernobyl. The Plan’s aim is to stabilise and replace the existing shelter surrounding the destroyed Unit 4 reactor at Chernobyl and to deal with outstanding radioactive waste problems at the site, in order to prevent any further serious release of radioactive material to the environment.
Major emergency work on the existing shelter was carried out in 1998-99, and a programme of stabilisation measures was completed in late 2006.
The largest SIP project is the design and construction of the “New Safe Confinement”, a150-metre long, 18,000-tonne metal arch, over the existing shelter, that will confine radioactive material and provide protection from rainwater and snow over a minimum lifespan of a hundred years. To limit workers’ exposure to radiation, the arch will be assembled away from the existing shelter and then rolled into place on rails.
A series of projects has now been completed to:
- provide infrastructure facilities for the construction site, including refurbished utility provision, new road and rail connections and a large changing facility with medical and radiation screening provision
- introduce a number of programmes to ensure adequate worker safety and protection, notably systematic medical care and screening programmes and a training programme to help develop a new safety culture
- install a new nuclear, radiation and seismic Integrated Monitoring System and improve site access control and physical protection systems
The Novarka Consortium has been contracted to build the New Safe Confinement. By April 2011, piling activities and foundations for the erection cranes in arch assembly area were well under way in preparation for construction of the arch.
The current assessment is that the arch will be slid into position in Summer 2015, and commissioned in late 2015.