Chernobyl tragedy has not prevented nuclear renaissance

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - The Chernobyl nuclear power plant must have a new confinement shelter for its 4th reactor, which exploded on April 26, 1986.

The old shelter was built hastily, in emergency conditions when robots went mad but people continued to work. It sufficed in the short term, but time and severe weather conditions have weakened it. The new confinement will be safe for 100 years.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) declared the French consortium Novarka the winner of the tender for construction of a new safe confinement, which is being designed by an international group led by French engineers.

Many countries, including Russia, have contributed to the EBRD-managed Chernobyl Shelter Fund ($1 billion). The new shelter will consist of a 100-meter high steel arch with a span of about 250 meters. It will slide along rails into place over the Soviet sarcophagus (containing 200 tons of irradiated fuel and 16 million curie).

After that, work will begin to extract and rebury radioactive materials from the damaged reactor.

Meanwhile, the old sarcophagus is being improved by the Stabilizatsiya consortium of Atomstroyexport, Russia's nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly. The company has stabilized the old structure and will now repair the roof and install physical protection systems.

Work to clear up the consequences of the Chernobyl tragedy has not stopped for 22 years. The world still remembers that abnormal radiation levels were registered in tea plantations in California and in Antarctica, thousands of kilometers from the disaster zone. The explosion claimed many lives, and people are still dying of radiation-related diseases. Many lost their families and homes, while others refused to leave their polluted homes.

The tragedy also became a major trial for the nuclear sector, because it stopped the construction of many nuclear power plants, and put a temporary halt on the sector's development. Many countries decided to decommission their nuclear power plants, but France, which quickly learned the lessons of Chernobyl, surged ahead, and now 87% of its electricity is produced at nuclear plants.

The world wanted to see what Russia, the legal successor of the Soviet Union, would do. During the Millennium Summit in New York, where much was said about the sustainable development of humankind and an upcoming energy crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia had made its choice in favor of nuclear generation.

Russia's first practical step towards this goal was the approval of a federal program until 2020, which provides for building nuclear power plants in the energy-hungry Tver, Nizhni Novgorod, Chelyabinsk and Yaroslavl regions, and possibly also in the Kostroma Region. It has recently been decided to build a nuclear power plant in the Kaliningrad Region, Russia's enclave on the Baltic Sea. In the future, a nuclear power plant will also be built in the Maritime Territory on the Pacific.

The nuclear renaissance is spreading across the world. More than 20 countries have announced their intention to develop nuclear power generation, while those who have such plants are modernizing them and building new facilities.

Why? Has the world forgotten about Chernobyl? No, but the looming threat of an energy crisis is forcing humankind to pin its hopes on the atom. Future civilizations will invent something better, but for now we have to build nuclear power plants.

Russian scientists, engineers and designers of nuclear reactors have not been sitting on their hands. They addressed safety problems and improved reactors, and it was largely thanks to them that nuclear generation has been revived.

Russian-designed reactors are better than ever. For example, they are now equipped with a sophisticated containment unit, an emergency meltdown core catcher. Alexander Borovoi of the Kurchatov Institute research center said that in case of an accident, the task of these containers is to catch and keep meltdown mass with a radiation level of hundreds of millions curie, consisting of nuclear fuel and parts of an exploding reactor.

On the other hand, the probability of an accident at a modern nuclear power plant is one in a million.

Many countries are working to create better catchers, but the first such system was designed in Russia and installed at the Tianwan nuclear power plant in China.

Professor Borovoi, who has for 20 years headed a group of Kurchatov Institute scientists working at Chernobyl, said it was only by lucky chance that the destroyed reactor's core had not melted through the building's walls and contaminated subsoil waters.

The new core catchers now make this an impossibility.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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