On Saturday Ukraine will pay tribute to the memory of victims of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Twenty-eight years ago, the fourth power generating unit exploded at the plant located on the right bank of the Pripyat river 12km from the town of Chernobyl. The reactor’s fuel elements broke, leading to a huge explosion and blowing off the reactor cap. The fuel rods melted and the graphite covering the reactor ignited. It burned for nine days, leaking massive amounts of radiation into the environment – even more than was expelled during the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.
As a result, the total area of radiation pollution in Ukraine reached 50,000 sq.km in 12 regions. In addition, 19 Russian regions and part of the Belorussian territory also suffered from radiation pollution. Thirty-one people died in the first three months after the accident.
The radiation syndrome hit 134 people, though secret reports mention at least 300. According to different sources, between 25,000 and 100,000 people became victims of the Chernobyl disaster within 25 years. 600,000 people are considered liquidators, or clean-up workers, even though elimination of the consequences of the man-made accident is still going on.
A sarcophagus was built over the faulty unit after the accident but it has been gradually coming to disrepair in recent years. The Ukrainian authorities intend to turn the Chernobyl plant into a safe system with the help of an arch-shaped structure 105m high, 150 m long and 260 m wide. At the end of 2007, the NOVARKA consortium headed by French companies started designing the arch. The technological framework and auxiliary facilities are to be placed inside a steel structure. The construction of the new sarcophagus is planned to be completed in 2015.
This week the Ukrainian government increased the amount of expenses on supporting the Chernobyl plant units and the Shelter object by 2.3% to reach $65.4 mln. There are also plans to use the plant grounds for building a fuel storage system. This week the Ukrainian government allocated 45 hectares of land in the alienation zone for this purpose. The fuel storage system is meant to be part of a nuclear waste disposal complex of the Chernobyl power plant. The storage system is to be located in a spot among several villages, in the alienation and compulsory evacuation zone to the south-west of the Chernobyl plant which is to be put out of operation.