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'A ticking timebomb': contamination shield at Chernobyl delayed due to Ukrainian crisis

Adi Roche said that a large amount of “highly unstable” radioactive material was still present at the site of the 1986 disaster.

Adi Roche measuring radiation in Chernobyl.
Adi Roche measuring radiation in Chernobyl.
Image: Chernobyl Children International/Julian Behal

THE BUILDING OF a contamination shield at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been thrown into doubt due to increasing political tensions in Ukraine.

The shield, which would be the largest movable structure ever built, was due to be installed by October 2015 at a cost of almost €1.5 billion.

However, Irish aid agency Chernobyl Children International (CCI) has said that construction on the shield could be delayed by up to two years.

The primary objective of the structure is to make the leaking reactor safe for the next century.

Adi Roche, CEO of CCI, who recently returned from a trip to study the progress of the shield’s construction, described the situation as a “ticking timebomb”.

“Chernobyl is the old Soviet Union’s deadly legacy to Ukraine and the world has very real reason to be extremely concerned about the ongoing threat it poses, especially at a time of great instability and growing hostility between Ukraine and Russia,” Roche said.

What can never be forgotten is that the destruction caused by the deadly explosion at Reactor No 4 at Chernobyl was triggered by the release of just 3 per cent of the radioactive material in the plant, the remaining 97 per cent of this enormous ticking timebomb of highly unstable nuclear material is still inside the crumbling Chernobyl complex.

The world’s worst nuclear accident occurred at Chernobyl, 120 kilometres north of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, on 26 April 1986. The explosion affected the lives of more than 7 million people.

reactor5 (by Julien Behal) A reactor at Chernobyl. Pic: Chernobyl Children International/Julian Behal

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, a temporary shield was built over the damaged reactor to prevent any further release of radiation.

Over time, this shield deteriorated and in 1997 the G7 group of nations and the EU signed an agreement to replace the old ‘sarcophagus’ with a ‘safe confinement structure’.

Work on the new shield began in 2010.

Funding

The EU has pledged €250 million towards the cost of the structure, while Ukraine is set to pay €45 million and Russia has committed to contribute €15 million.

Roche said that Russia appears to have abandoned its pledge.

Internationally, several countries have committed to aid the project financially. The US, Germany and the UK will donate €182 million, €60 million and €53 million respectively. Ireland has contributed €8 million.

Ukrainian politician Valerii Kalchenko said it was “hugely uncertain” if Russia would provide their share of the funding.

Chernobyl Children International recently had to suspend a €3 million euro cardiac surgery programme in the town of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine due to escalating tensions.

This Saturday will mark the 28th anniversary of the disaster.

Related: Children can’t get surgery because of Ukraine crisis, the Irish government is being asked to help

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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