Progress toward safety has finally been made with a new protective steel shield in place over the world’s worst nuclear disaster at the 1986 Chernobyl disaster site. This is now the largest movable land-based structure ever built. The massive building covers a crumbling and poorly constructed housing that was erected about eight months after the accident, in an effort to contain the radioactive waste. This gigantic new shield was built over the past six years, with construction commencing in 2010. 40 countries participated in its construction, and it was designed to last at least 100 years.
The Chernobyl meltdown was the largest nuclear disaster in world history. The plant was located in the Soviet Union, USSR in April of 1986, in an area of the world now belonging to Ukraine. The disaster resulted from a failed stress test to the system. An unexpected power surge lead to the core accumulating a lot of steam that exploded. For nine solid days radioactive isotopes were launched into the air. There is still radioactive waste in the area today. Three of the plant’s reactors are still operating to this day, due to an energy shortage without their output.
The town of Pripyat, which is where the plant is located, had to evacuate almost 50,000 people and their animals within 36 hours of the incident. The entire area is a barren ghost town today. Because of increasing fallout, another 68,000 people were evacuated from the town of Chernobyl itself about a week after the incident. Over time more than 350,000 had to leave the area.The zone of damage stretched out at least 19 miles from the explosion site.
The disaster has resulted in over 68 known deaths, as stated by a 2008 UNSCEAR report conducted by the UN agency. The projected amount of deaths over time is estimated to be around 4,000, as many of the people affected developed various cancers. Most common have been radiation-induced cancers, thyroid cancer and Leukemia. Most of the original deaths were from radiation positioning/sickness. And this has still been happening over the past few decades during the cleanup efforts. People who live in the area have also dealt with birth defects and other physical illnesses related to the disaster.
This new shield is the size of three football fields and weighs over 36,000 tons, or the equivalent of 12,000 elephants. It was predicted to take about five days to move into place. However, moving such a massive structure took longer than anticipated. The move ended up requiring 224 hydraulic jacks and two weeks of labor.
This project cost $1.6 billion dollars and was funded by 40 countries. The Soviet Union had bankrupted itself during the cleanup efforts of this incident, with the 18 billion ruble cost (about the same in the US dollar of the time in 1986).
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko stated at the unveiling ceremony, “Let the whole world see what Ukraine and the world can do when they unite, how we are able to protect the world from nuclear contamination and nuclear threats.”