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Chernobyl status report reveals a catalogue of failures and ongoing nuclear risks

English: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

English: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hamburg, 14 April 2016 – Thirty years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster efforts to manage the damaged Chernobyl reactor are still in preliminary stages, leaving local people, visitors and wildlife at risk. These are the findings of a new status report prepared for Greenpeace Germany by physicist Oda Becker.

“Trying to deal with the Chernobyl disaster is like the labour of Sisyphus. It has to be done, but will not be finished for hundreds of years, if ever,” said Tobias Münchmeyer, Greenpeace Germany’s nuclear expert. “The technology that’s needed does not yet exist and the funding has not been secured. The international community bears a huge responsibility,” he added.

Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded on April 26, 1986, following an operator error. Radioactive material released contaminated large areas of Europe and thousands of people died. Around five million people still live on contaminated soil in affected areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia – and Ukraine has opened the ‘Exclusion Zone‘ to tourism.

The report highlights that a new protective “sarcophagus” to encase the ruins of the nuclear reactor is long overdue. Radioactive waste spanning 440,000 cubic meters — 15 times the volume of high-level nuclear waste from all the nuclear power plants in Germany — is now stored in a crumbling shell. Deterioration is accelerated by moisture leaking through the cracks.

The new “sarcophagus”, three times the size of the Hamburg railroad station, is to be placed over the existing structure. But it will not be completed before the end of 2017. The project has already been delayed for 12 years and the costs for the so‑called Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP) have quadrupled to around EUR 2.15 billion.

Transforming the damaged reactor into an environmentally safe system is, at best, a distant goal. The technology needed to securely handle, store and dispose of the waste does not currently exist – and it is unclear who will pay the enormous cost of the work required. Ukraine government experts estimate costs in the “tens of billions of dollars”.

There are concerns that Ukraine may be left to deal with this problem more or less on its own after the SIP has been finished. The report also flags that practically no work is being done on developing long-term solutions. Even the pilot project aimed at testing safe disposal of the radioactive material was discontinued.

“It’s clear that Chernobyl will continue to be a risk for generations. The international community must ensure there’s adequate long-term support for the Ukraine to recover all nuclear waste from the station and store it properly,” said Tobias Münchmeyer.ENDSNotes to editorsExecutive summary of the Chernobyl status report (English, pdf): report (German, pdf):

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