The start of the slide marks a key milestone in the ambitious project to position an arch as a shield to protect against the radioactive waste following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power station accident.
Chernobyl’s New Safe Confinement (NSC) is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built. It has a span of 257m, a length of 162m, a height of 108m and a total weight of 36,000t. It is being moved into its resting place over Chernobyl’s reactor 4, which was destroyed in the accident 30 years ago.
The sliding is done by specialist contractor Mammoet using a skidding system that consists of 224 hydraulic jacks to push the arch 600mm with each stroke. It is anticipated that the total skid time will be around 40 hours of operation spread over a period of up to five days.
The NSC was constructed in a clean area near reactor 4 and will be slid over 327m to seal off the unit. It will make the site safe and allow for the eventual dismantling of the ageing shelter that currently houses the reactor and for the management of the radioactive waste within.
Ukraine minister of ecology and natural resources Ostap Semerak said: “The start of the sliding of the arch over reactor 4 at the Chernobyl NPP is the beginning of the end of a 30-year long fight with the consequences of the 1986 accident. The credit for construction of this one-of-a-kind technological structure goes to an expert team of engineers and builders. This is a historic step towards the improvement of environmental safety throughout the world, as well as in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. And it has only become possible thanks to immense international support. The fact that more than 40 contributing countries and donor countries united around the goal of protecting humanity from the radioactive consequences of the tragedy is another demonstration that environmental safety remains a priority for global policymakers. And I believe that the transformation of the exclusion zone into a safe area will demonstrate the change in Ukraine’s overall environmental policy, too.”
Igor Gramotkin, director general of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, commented: “For us the arch is not just 36,000 tonnes of prefabricated metal. It is 36,000 tonnes of our belief in success, of trust in our site, our people and in Ukraine.”
Vince Novak, EBRD director, nuclear safety, added: “This is the culmination of many years of hard work by Ukraine and the international community. The New Safe Confinement project would not have been possible without the support of the over 40 donor countries who are contributors to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund. The new structure illustrates what is possible in a spirit of determined and coordinated joint effort and thanks to the generous support of EBRD shareholders.”
Nicolas Caille, project director for Novarka – the French construction consortium formed by Vinci Construction and Bouygues Construction – said: “This is a one-of-a-kind project serving the aims of the Ukrainian authorities. We are immensely proud of what we together with our partners have achieved. The New Safe Confinement shows what is technically possible. At the same time, given the circumstances, we must all hope that never again will a similar structure have to be built on the site of a nuclear accident and in a contaminated environment.”
Novarka’s construction of the New Safe Confinement started in 2012 after extensive preparatory works on the ground. The vast dimensions of the structure meant that it had to be built in two halves, which were lifted and joined together in 2015. The arch-shaped structure is fitted with an overhead crane to allow for future dismantling of the existing shelter and the remains of reactor 4. The New Safe Confinement has a lifespan of at least 100 years and will cost €1.5bn (£1.3bn).