Chornobyl 31 years on: making the area safe again

Chornobyl 31 years on: making the area safe again

Chornobyl 31 years on: making the area safe again

26 April 2017 marks the 31th anniversary of the accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The European Commission has committed around €740 million to Chornobyl and related projects in order to improve nuclear safety and to deal with the legacy of the accident.

The joined-up work of the European Commission and the international community in response to the disaster combines into an extraordinary achievement. However, the shelter that was built in 1986 to cover the reactor destroyed by the accident (of the unit 4 of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant) was not intended to be a permanent solution. In 1997, with the strong support of the European Commission, a group of international experts from the EU, Japan, Ukraine and the USA finalised a construction programme known as the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP).

A unique international effort
The SIP is funded by the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, which is managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). It focuses on converting the site of the 1986 accident and the increasingly unstable 'sarcophagus' over reactor 4 to achieve an environmentally safe and stable condition.
By 2007, 10 years after the agreement on the SIP, a number of main tasks had been completed, creating the conditions required for the start of the construction of a new safe confinement, the last major construction project at the Chornobyl site under the plan.

Another major fund managed by the EBRD, the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA), was set up in 1993 to finance nuclear safety projects in central and Eastern Europe. It provides the funds for projects related to the decommissioning of the Chornobyl units 1, 2 and 3, which kept operating after the accident until 2000, and radioactive waste management. Currently, 29 countries and the European Commission provide funding and direction to the Chornobyl projects in this context. In parallel, the Commission provided its own contribution to radioactive waste management projects needed for the restoration of the site.

You may view here some recent drone footage from Chornobyl (source: EBRD).

Securing the site

Key achievements of the Chernobyl Shelter Fund and of the Nuclear Safety Account to date include 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 made the start of the construction of a new safe confinement possible – a unique engineering project, which once completed will cover the damaged Chornobyl unit 4, allowing it to be decommissioned in the future.

The new safe confinement involves building a giant arch-shaped confinement structure to cover the damaged Chornobyl unit 4, allowing it to be decommissioned in the future. It is a unique engineering project of huge proportions, which once completed will be large enough to house the Statue of Liberty. It will have a span of 257 metres, a length of 164 metres, a height of 110 metres and a weight of 29 000 tons.

The scale of the Chornobyl accident required an unprecedented response. To date, the international donor community and the EBRD have provided over €2 billion to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund and the Nuclear Safety Account. The European Commission alone committed over €470 million to these funds. In April 2015 €615 million were raised at a pledging conference in London for the Chernobyl Shelter Fund. The G7 and the European Commission made further pledges to the Nuclear Safety Account in Kiev on 25 April 2015 (on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the accident), in addition to a contribution from the EBRD. This latest pledging round was intended to close the €105 million gap to complete the Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility. Ukraine has also confirmed its readiness to continue to support the funding of the Chornobyl projects as well as to provide the government support needed to facilitate their completion.

Promoting nuclear safety

Following the Chornobyl accident, the European Commission launched a nuclear safety programme under the 'Technical Aid to the Commonwealth of Independent States' (TACIS) programme (the general technical assistance programme to the CIS), which between 1991 and 2006 allocated €1.3 billion to nuclear safety and security projects. Most of these projects were implemented in Russia and Ukraine.

Since 2007 and in particular since the Fukushima-Daiichi Accident in 2011, the Commission has expanded its nuclear safety assistance and cooperation to third countries under the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation (INSC), which had a total budget allocation of €525 million for the period 2007-2013 and a further €252 million for 2014-2020.
Supporting the victims of the disaster

The European Commission's support for nuclear safety has not just focused on improving the technical facilities. It is also aimed at helping those who have had to live with the legacy of Chornobyl to rebuild their lives. EU-funded projects have targeted areas such as healthcare, education and horticulture:

  • The 'Children of Chernobyl' project focused on helping mothers and children who were victims of the accident by providing all newborns in the area with access to quality healthcare.
  • Another project installed state-of-the-art equipment – including infant incubators and ventilation sets – at local hospitals.
  • A rehabilitation programme developed economic opportunities in the agricultural sector and helped to set up private businesses, contributing to the creation of new jobs.
  • Additional projects dealing with the social consequences of the Chornobyl accident included:
    • Provision of necessary equipment to the District hospital in the city of Ivankiev which is located close to the exclusion zone;

    • Provision of a state-of-the-art incinerator for contaminated wood from the dry forest that increases the fire hazard in the exclusion zone with potential contamination of the environment;

    • Building a greenhouse to grow clean vegetables for the local population;

    • Establishing an updated mapping of the contamination and an information centre locally.