Thirty years after Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor No. 4 exploded, the building built around the site has reached the end of its expected life span. The New Safe Confinement is a gigantic steel arch that will fit over the old protective shell—the “sarcophagus” built by the Soviet Union soon after the explosion. The new arch will slide into place sometime in 2017, preventing the spread of radioactivity.
It started in 1986, 26th of April.
[Gorbachev, speaking in Russian:] There was an accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant…
[Nicolas Caille:] During the night they did an exercise in Chernobyl in the existing power plant. And the test went badly, and they had an explosion—the biggest nuclear catastrophe in the world.
Then, their [the Soviet’s] vision was to build a sarcophagus, just after the explosion. It took them about eight months. And they did a great job because the conditions at that time were very difficult and the radiation was very high.
That sarcophagus had a design life of approximately 30 years. So if you add 30 to 86, it gives you 2016. So, it’s time. I mean, that structure is not stable. I mean, you can have some doubt about the stability of the existing sarcophagus.
Now the aim of our project is to encapsulate everything—to put an arch over the existing sarcophagus—to be sure that even though there is an earthquake or even if the existing sarcophagus collapses, you don’t have any contamination in Europe, or just around Chernobyl.
It’s a one-off project. I mean it’s a custom. And I hope that we will not have to rebuild such an arch elsewhere.
The span is more than 260 meters, so it’s more than twice a football pitch.
The height is 110 meters and the length is 160 meters.
So, it’s a huge structure, protected by an external cladding and an internal cladding done with stainless steel. It’s for a hundred years of durability.
Everything is large, is massive in the project.
It is six times the Eiffel Tower.
You have hover cranes that have never been built [before]. The hover cranes are much larger and heavier than a Boeing [aircraft].
The total weight of the structure by itself is 24,000 tons. But with all the cladding and the systems and the main crane system, the bridges—the total weight will be 36,000 tons.
The structure will be pushed and will slide 10 meters an hour. It’s the speed of a snail. We will push it for 300 meters in the next coming November, and it will be the biggest movable structure.
Right now, the arch is almost finished—it will be finished in 2017.
We still have a lot of alpinists installing the cladding. But mainly now we are focusing on ventilation and electricity and things like that.
The total amount is $1.5 billion [ADDED $ SIGN; OR ADD: euros OR: rubles OR WHATEVER THE CURRENCY IS IN BRACKETS], so it’s a huge task and...
…it’s because of the catastrophe that we are here.
[The above text is a transcript of this video.]
Producer, Videographer, Editor, Reporter: John Wendle
Narrator: Nicolas Caille*
Executive Producer, Producer, Subtitles: Eliene Augenbraun
Special Thanks: The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Chernobyl: Chronicle of Difficult Weeks by Vladimir Shevchenko, NOVARKA (a joint venture of Bouygues Travaux Publics and VINCI Construction)
Note about archival video:
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is one of the main funders of the construction project, provided the Soviet archival footage. They bought distribution rights from a documentary called Chernobyl: Chronicle of Difficult Weeks by Vladimir Shevchenko, who died of radiation poisoning just a few months after the disaster.
*Nicolas Caille is project director for NOVARKA, the consortium building the arch, which is partially funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, along with multiple foreign governments.