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The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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3.3.3 Chernobyl today – the reactor

Described image
Figure 11

It is nearly 30 years since the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl’s power plant. The Chernobyl nuclear plant remains entombed in its concrete and steel sarcophagus which is due to end its 30 year lifespan in 2016.

The sarcophagus will be replaced by a ‘New Safe Confinement’ which is under construction. This is designed to contain the radioactive material within the plant and act as a shield from the weather for the next 100 years. It is a huge engineering challenge.

In the future, it is hoped that one day all this radioactive material will be disposed of safely – that will be an even more challenging task! The New Safe Confinement will provide a protected space where the dismantling can begin, but this is likely to be performed by machines as the radiation levels are still too much of a risk for humans. Figure 11 shows the stages of assembly – the building is being built in two domed halves.

The radiation in the exclusion zone is variable and dependent on the weather, still needs constant monitoring for those that are working on the abandoned plant. Levels of radiation are still high but have dropped sufficiently for workers to be able to spend a week or two working on the plant. Care stills needs to be taken not to ingest radioactive material in the air and to wear suitable protective clothing.

In the next section, see images from the exclusion zone around Chernobyl.