Since Then

THE initial clean-up operation was impressive - the sarcophagus was completed in only seven months in November 1986 and radiation levels on the site are now relatively low. However, the emphasis at the time was on rapid containment and it was never meant to be a permanent solution. The sarcophagus is deteriorating and several scenarios have been considered in which it may collapse or otherwise cause further severe contamination. The clean-up operation itself created a large amount of waste, which is currently stored in various sites within the 30km exclusion zone. More permanent solutions are currently under discussion, and facilities are being constructed for the processing and long-term storage of fuel, liquid and solid waste.

With reactor four entombed, operation of the other three continued. A new town 50km to the east of Chernobyl, named Slavoutich, was created to house plant personnel. Reactor number two was irreparably damaged by fire in 1991. Unit one stopped in 1996 and was subsequently decommissioned. Unit three became increasingly unreliable, and was finally shut down on the 15 December, 2000 to comply with an agreement made with the G7 group of nations in 1995. For their part, the G7 group agreed to assist in upgrading other Soviet-era reactors to western safety standards, and supported the continued construction of two new reactors, Khmelnitskiy 2 and Rovno 4, to replace the Chernobyl plant. The two new reactors are VVER-1000 units, similar to the West's Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) designs, and are partially funded by the EU and Ukrainian and Russian governments.

As a result of lessons learned and further international assistance, all remaining operational RBMK reactors were heavily modified to eliminate the known design flaws. There are currently 13 operational RBMK reactors (11 in Russia and two in Lithuania) and one more under construction.

Ukraine's Minister of Emergencies on Ukraine television in May 2005 declared that construction of a new sarcophagus over reactor 4 at the Chernobyl power plant will start at the end of 2006 once the preparatory stage had been completed. The Minister insisted there was no danger of the present protective shelter collapsing and causing a further disaster. He also said that the term of use of the present shelter expires in 2012 and that donors had appropriated the necessary funds for the construction. The new sarcophagus is going to be 257 metres long, 150 metres wide and 108 metres high. It is designed to remain functional for one hundred years. There is presently no long-term solution to the containment issue, we are leaving the problem for future generations to deal with.