Chernobyl protective dome
Anthropocene

Chernobyl goes green: The ambitious plan to reclaim a nuclear disaster site

Chernobyl is famous as the site of the worst nuclear power accidents in history. The 1986 disaster has come to represent the perils of nuclear energy, much as Hiroshima represents the danger of nuclear weapons. But some think Chernobyl needn’t only be a negative example. An enormous dome was placed over the reactor in 2016 to seal in radiation. Now, an ambitious new plan is in place to start generating energy at Chernobyl again. But don’t worry – this time, it’s solar.

The Chernobyl Sarcophagi

In the aftermath of the 1986 disaster, one measure taken to prevent further problems was to construct a “sarcophagus” over the plant, encasing the danger and limiting any additional contamination. But this was a temporary solution.

30 years later, in 2016, almost $2 billion was spent on an enormous new dome. Constructed at a safe distance and then moved along rails to the plant itself, it’s the largest movable structure ever built. You can see it in the picture above.

The New Safe Confinement, as it’s officially called, is a hugely impressive piece of architecture, and a fine example of ingenuity in the face of catastrophe. But there’s more in store for Chernobyl than simply damage limitation. In recent years, tourists have been able to tour the ghost-town of Pripyat, though only for brief periods.

Now, a major project is underway to put the plant back on the grid. Chernobyl, being the site of a power plant, naturally has great access to power lines. This is what makes the unlikely location an attractive investment opportunity. Nuclear power has been a disaster for the area. But there’s nothing to say that it can’t still be used to generate energy in a different form.

Solar Chernobyl

Just 100 meters from the dome, workers have installed almost 4,000 solar panels. The Ukrainian-German company behind the project, Solar Chernobyl, say the plant will be operational in just a few weeks. When it launches, the new plant will be equipped to cover the energy needs of around 2,000 apartments. But the ambition is to continually expand and optimize its capacities until it can generate 100 times that power capacity.

The health risks associated with working in the vicinity of Chernobyl have made this a controversial undertaking. But Yevgen Varyagin, head of Solar Chernobyl, insists that the exclusion zone “shouldn’t be a black hole in the middle of Ukraine.”

Does leaving this “black hole” in place amount to accepting defeat? And is the symbolic victory of reclaiming the land for green energy worth the risk? These questions are difficult to answer. But for many Ukrainians, making the exclusion zone productive again is an urgent concern.

As a species, we’ve done all kinds of damage to our planet. But we also have an immense capacity to shape our environment in positive ways, negating damage we have previously done. If we want to build a positive future, it’s a capacity we have to exercise somehow.

Source: The Independent

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