Inside Chernobyl’s Mega Tomb: Documentary which follows the construction of a trailblazing 36,000-tonne steel structure to entomb the ruins of the nuclear power plant destroyed in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. It films close up with the team of international engineers as they race to build the new structure before Chernobyl’s original concrete sarcophagus – the hastily built structure that covers the reactor – collapses.
Built to last just 30 years, the temporary sarcophagus is now crumbling, putting the world at risk of another release of radioactive dust. Radiation levels make it impossible for workers to build the new shelter directly over the old reactor, so engineers are erecting the new megastructure – taller than the tower of Big Ben and three times heavier than the Eiffel Tower – to one side and will then face the challenge of sliding the largest object ever moved on land into place over the old reactor.
Inside Chernobyl’s Mega Tomb
The Chernobyl disaster was caused by a nuclear accident that occurred on Saturday 26 April 1986, at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history and was caused by one of only two nuclear energy accidents rated at seven—the maximum severity—on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
The accident started during a safety test on an RBMK-type nuclear reactor, which was commonly used throughout the Soviet Union. The test was a simulation of an electrical power outage to aid the development of a safety procedure for maintaining reactor cooling water circulation until the back-up electrical generators could provide power. This gap was about one minute and had been identified as a potential safety problem that could cause the nuclear reactor core to overheat. It was hoped to prove that the residual rotational energy in a turbine generator could provide enough power to cover the gap. Three such tests had been conducted since 1982, but they had failed to provide a solution. On this fourth attempt, an unexpected 10-hour delay meant that an unprepared operating shift was on duty.
During the planned decrease of reactor power in preparation for the electrical test, the power unexpectedly dropped to a near-zero level. The operators were able to only partially restore the specified test power, which put the reactor in a potentially unstable condition. This risk was not made evident in the operating instructions, so the operators proceeded with the electrical test. Upon test completion, the operators triggered a reactor shutdown, but a combination of unstable conditions and reactor design flaws caused an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction instead.
Chernobyl recovery projects
The Chernobyl Trust Fund was created in 1991 by the United Nations to help victims of the Chernobyl accident. It is administered by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which also manages strategy formulation, resources mobilization, and advocacy efforts. Beginning 2002, under the United Nations Development Programme, the fund shifted its focus from emergency assistance to long-term development.
The Chernobyl Shelter Fund was established in 1997 at the Denver 23rd G8 summit to finance the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP). The plan calls for transforming the site into an ecologically safe condition by means of stabilization of the sarcophagus followed by construction of a New Safe Confinement (NSC). While the original cost estimate for the SIP was US$768 million, the 2006 estimate was $1.2 billion. The SIP is being managed by a consortium of Bechtel, Battelle, and Électricité de France, and conceptual design for the NSC consists of a movable arch, constructed away from the shelter to avoid high radiation, to be slid over the sarcophagus. The NSC was moved into position in November 2016 and is expected to be completed in late-2017.
In 2003, the United Nations Development Programme launched the Chernobyl Recovery and Development Programme (CRDP) for the recovery of the affected areas. The programme was initiated in February 2002 based on the recommendations in the report on Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident. The main goal of the CRDP’s activities is supporting the Government of Ukraine in mitigating long-term social, economic, and ecological consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. CRDP works in the four most Chernobyl-affected areas in Ukraine: Kyivska, Zhytomyrska, Chernihivska and Rivnenska.