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Chornobyl:Improving Safety Next:
Shelter Renovation and Worker Safety Improvement

The Challenge of Chornobyl

The U.S. Department of Energy is cooperating with Ukraine, the countries of the G-7 economic group, Russia, and the European Commission on the safe shutdown and decommissioning of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The last operating reactor, Unit 3, was shut down permanently on December 15, 2000. U.S. safety improvement activities included repairing and stabilizing the steel and concrete shelter encasing the damaged Unit 4 reactor building, fostering an enhanced nuclear safety culture, and improving worker training and safety procedures at Unit 3 until its closure. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy is working with Ukraine to coordinate international nuclear safety projects at the Chornobyl Center for Nuclear Safety, Radioactive Waste and Radioecology.

Photo: Hole in Chornobyl Holes like this one in the Unit 4 shelter are potential pathways for radioactive materials to escape into the environment.

Ukraine is spending 5 percent of its national budget addressing Chornobyl's social impacts.

Map showing Chornobyl location

The 1986 disaster at Chornobyl's Unit 4 reactor dramatically emphasized the importance of nuclear safety. The accident destroyed the reactor and left 190 tons of highly radioactive fuel in a twisted mass. Radiation from the accident affected Ukraine, neighboring countries, and many parts of Western Europe. Fallout was detected as far away as the United States.

To contain the radiation, during seven months in 1986, workers constructed a massive, 20-story concrete and steel shelter over the destroyed reactor (photo ). However, the heat from the reactor building fire and the intense radiation made it impossible to build a leak-tight, stable shelter at the time. The structure has cracks and holes that allow water and even small animals to enter and potentially spread contamination. Radioactive dust from the shelter endangers workers and creates radiological hazards. The structural instability of the Unit 4 shelter is another potential risk to workers performing cleanup activities. The shelter was erected partially on the damaged remains of the Unit 4 reactor building and provides inadequate protection against earthquakes.

Recognizing these risks, Ukraine signed a 1995 agreement with the countries of the G-7 economic group and the European Commission to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant by the year 2000. However, Ukraine lacked the economic and technical resources to prepare the Chornobyl plant for shutdown, decontamination, and decommissioning. Moreover, Ukraine could not afford simply to shut the Chornobyl plant down. Chornobyl's Unit 3 generated 4 percent of the country's electrical supply, and was the primary employer and electrical supplier for Slavutych, a town of more than 28,000 people.

As part of the 1995 agreement, the United States, the other G-7 countries, and the European Commission agreed to support Ukraine's efforts to reduce the safety risks at Chornobyl, achieve greater energy efficiency, and mitigate the socioeconomic impacts of Chornobyl closure. The United States is committed to enhancing the stability of the democracies emerging from the countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as improving nuclear safety throughout the world. The timely closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and the preservation of Ukrainešs economic stability are, therefore, of great national interest.

Chornobyl:Improving Safety Next:
Shelter Renovation and Worker Safety Improvement


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