The haunting remnants of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, stand as a grim reminder of what happens when humans become careless. As is well publicized, the highly radioactive site – home to the 1986 reactor explosion that caused the evacuation of tens of thousands of people – is still leaking radiation.
If any more of the structure collapses, additional radiation could be released into the atmosphere. In order to stop this from happening, a gigantic silvery shield designed to cover up the reactor has been assembled over the last few years. As reported by BBC News, construction has just been completed.
Measuring 275 meters (900 feet) wide and 108 meters (354 feet) tall, it was built nearby and has just begun to be slowly moved towards the infamous site. It will take five days for a system of powerful hydraulic jacks to carefully haul it into position.
When it’s locked into place, the so-called sarcophagus – the sealant around the reactor – will be taken away briefly so the last radioactive sources from within can be safely removed once and for all.
Known as the New Safe Confinement shield, it was funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to the tune of $1.6 billion. Hopefully, it’s the very last time such a strange and unwelcome form of mitigation has to be applied to a nuclear reactor.
“[This is] the beginning of the end of a 30-year long fight with the consequences of the 1986 accident,” Ukraine's ecology minister, Ostap Semerak, told BBC News.
An abandoned schoolroom in nearby Pripyat. EnolaBrain81/Shutterstock
Understandably, whenever people are reminded of Chernobyl, the frightening image of nuclear meltdowns and radioactive clouds tends to come to mind. As terrible as this disaster was, it must be emphasized that it was a result of a flawed reactor design that was poorly maintained, with no oversight, by personnel who were not up to the task.
Of course, there is a risk when it comes to nuclear power, but it’s incredibly low. Chernobyl was a terrifying moment in time, but it is something that badly needs to be put into perspective.
Fukushima is often brought up by certain activists as being just as bad as the 1986 incident, but this is a false equivalency.
Yes, it was not a good idea to station a nuclear power plant on a coastline that, although rare, was vulnerable to tsunamis. However, multiple reports – including from the UN itself – found that the meltdown was contained, cancer rates in the region are to remain stable, and there will be a temporary, not permanent, effect on wildlife.
Fukushima was certainly a disaster, but it is still just one of three major incidences that have involved nuclear power in the history of the industry. Importantly, its recognition as a powerful low-carbon, climate change-fighting tool should not be overshadowed with reminders of Chernobyl.
Don’t just take our word for it. Nuclear power is considered by many experts around the globe as an essential partner to renewables when it comes to curbing our carbon footprints. It’s getting rapidly safer and more efficient year-on-year. Not every nation needs it – some can be powered entirely by renewables – but it’s a useful, if somewhat expensive, source of energy to have.
Remember that, although Chernobyl killed up to 47 people through radiation-related sicknesses, it is the only incident in commercial nuclear power history where radiation-related fatalities occurred. Through air pollution and increasingly extreme weather events, tens of millions die every single year.
Simply put, if the somewhat overzealous fear of a meltdown is allowed to trump the grounded fear of climate change disasters, then our grandchildren will suffer. We owe them a better future than that.
Fukushima, prior to the meltdown. Songphon Maharojanan/Shutterstock
[H/T: BBC News]