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News Extra:Chernobyl containment conference raises €180 million to close funding gap

17 June 2015

An international donor conference on April 27 has secured financing for the completion on schedule by the end of 2017 of the New Safe Confinement (NSC), the protective structure being built to cover the destroyed reactor 4 at the site of the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

The NSC in early 2015 - Image:EBRD
The NSC in early 2015 - Image:EBRD

At the conference, the G7 and European Commission confirmed an additional contribution of €165 million to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, while other countries pledged €15 million. Several other countries indicated that they would also make contributions in the near future. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Governors had already said in November 2014 that the bank would provide an additional €350 million.

Prior to these new pledges, the NSC project had been facing a funding gap of €615 million, which has now been reduced to €85 million.

The new funds will allow all works in Chernobyl to continue without delay, the EBRD said.  Meanwhile, efforts to raise the remaining shortfall will continue, with the bank covering any outstanding amount. The EBRD serves as fund manager for the international community’s efforts to transform Chernobyl into an environmentally safe state.

The budget for the NSC, an arched steel enclosure, has risen due to design modifications and changes to the scope of the project.

The Chernobyl Shelter Fund was set up in 1997 to assist Ukraine in completing the project. The NSC, at a cost of €1.5 billion, is the most prominent element of the €2.15 billion Shelter Implementation Plan, the strategic framework developed to overcome the consequences of the 1986 incident, which includes the construction of related infrastructure and the employment and training of operations staff at the site.

With a height of 110 metres, a length of 165 metres, a span of 260 metres and a weight of more than 30,000 tonnes, the NSC is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built. Construction started in 2010 in a cleared area adjacent to the contaminated site, and the two halves of the structure have now been lifted and joined together.

The structure is currently being equipped with heavy duty cranes and other specialised equipment before being moved over the damaged reactor in late 2017. It will have a lifespan of a minimum of 100 years and allow for the future dismantling of the old sarcophagus built around the wrecked reactor after the meltdown in 1986, as well as continuing waste management operations.

To date, 43 donor governments have contributed to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund. In addition to its role as fund manager, the EBRD has provided €675 million of its own resources to support Chernobyl projects including the NSC.

The EBRD had been concerned that continuing turmoil in eastern Ukraine , as well as corruption within the Government, could have led to contributions drying up.

Vinci SA and Bouygues SA, the French contractors running the project, have already had to find alternative steelwork suppliers from other parts of the country after rebels overran factories in eastern Ukraine. Despite this, the EBRD says the project’s timeline remains intact.

The World Nuclear Association attributed  the tragedy to flawed Soviet reactor design coupled with Ukraine’s Cold War isolation and a lack of a safety culture at Chernobyl, which led plant operators to make serious mistakes. The World Health Organization estimates some 50 people died shortly after the accident and roughly 4,000 have faced premature death due to radiation exposure since then.

Vince Novak, EBRD Nuclear Safety Department Director, said early this year: “Until the new safe confinement is in place, we aren't safe.”

Novak said that there are significant amounts of radioactive waste and dust within the existing concrete structure that could escape into the environment if it were to fail, even though such a scenario is extremely unlikely.


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