Chernobyl 25 years on - Making the area safe again
26 April 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Since then, the European Commission (EC) has committed around €470 million to Chernobyl and related projects in order to improve nuclear safety and to deal with the legacy of the disaster.
• Key achievements of the Chernobyl Shelter Fund and of the Nuclear Safety Account so far have been the stabilisation of the existing shelter, the implementation of international health regulations to provide the best possible protection for on-site workers, the construction of facilities in view of future decommissioning and the design of the New Safe Confinement arch.
• Crucially, the actions implemented have created the conditions that have made the start of the construction of a New Safe Confinement possible – a unique engineering project which when completed will cover the damaged Chernobyl unit 4, allowing it to be decommissioned in the future.
• In parallel the Commission provided its own contribution to radioactive waste management projects needed for the restoration of the site.
• In addition to securing the environment, the Commission has carried out social projects in areas such as healthcare, education and horticulture to help those suffering the effects of the disaster to rebuild their lives.
Working together towards nuclear safety
Following the Chernobyl accident, the European Commission launched a nuclear safety programme under TACIS (the general technical assistance programme to the CIS) which between 1991 and 2006 allocated €1.3 billion to nuclear safety and security projects (mostly in Russia and Ukraine).
Since 2007 the Commission has expanded its nuclear safety assistance and cooperation to third countries under the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation (INSC), which has a total budget allocation of €524 million. A large proportion of the budgets of both programmes were allocated to Chernobyl projects.
The Shelter Implementation Plan and the Chernobyl Shelter Fund
The shelter that was built in 1986 was not intended to be a permanent solution and, in 1997, with the strong support of the European Commission, a group of international experts from the European Union (EU), USA, Japan and Ukraine finalized a construction programme known as the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP).
This plan devises a strategy to convert the site of the 1986 accident and the increasingly unstable sarcophagus over reactor 4 into an environmentally safe and secure condition.
The Shelter Implementation Plan is funded through the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, which is managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction.
By 2007, 10 years after the agreement on the SIP, a number of main tasks had been completed that allowed the start of the construction of a New Safe Confinement (NSC), the last major construction project at the Chernobyl site under the plan.
New Safe Confinement
The New Safe Confinement (NSC) involves building a giant arch-shaped confinement structure to cover the damaged Chernobyl unit 4, allowing it to be decommissioned in the future.
It is a unique engineering project of huge proportions, and when completed will be big enough to house the Statue of Liberty, with a span of 257 metres, a length of 164 metres, a height of 110 metres and a weight of 29,000 tons.
Nuclear Safety Account
The Nuclear Safety Account (NSA) was set up in 1993 to finance nuclear safety projects in central and eastern Europe. Currently, 29 countries and the European Commission provide funding and direction to the Chernobyl projects. The NSA provides the funds for projects related to the decommissioning of the Chernobyl units 1, 2 and 3, and radioactive waste management. The NSA is also managed by the EBRD.
Radioactive waste management
The Industrial Condition for Solid Radwaste Management (ICSRM), with a total budget of €47 million (90% EC funding) is intended to treat and safely store solid radioactive waste presently stored on site at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant as well as to manage solid waste resulting from the decommissioning of units 1 to 3.
The scale of the Chernobyl accident needed an unprecedented response. The joined-up work of the European Commission and international community constitutes an extraordinary achievement so far.
To date, the international Donor Community has provided some €1.2 billion to the "Chernobyl Shelter Fund" and "Nuclear Safety Account" with the G8 and the European Commission committing over €1.0 billion. Cost estimates calculated on the basis of detailed engineering work indicate that an additional €740 million is needed to complete the two projects. The G8 and the European Commission are working to make additional contributions. Ukraine has also confirmed its readiness to continue to support the funding of the Chernobyl projects as well as to provide the government support needed to facilitate their completion.
The Commission's work in nuclear safety has not just been about improving the technical facilities – we have also been making sure that we are helping those who have had to live with the legacy of Chernobyl to rebuild their lives.
The EC has carried out projects in areas such as healthcare, education and horticulture:
- "Children of Chernobyl": Helping mothers and children who were victims of the accident by providing all newborns in the area with access to quality healthcare.
- Installing state-of-the-art equipment at local hospitals like an infant incubator and ventilation set.
- Supporting a rehabilitation programme to develop economic opportunities in the agricultural sector and set up private businesses, helping to create new jobs.