The V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station at Chernobyl was all set to become the largest in the world. Construction started in 1972. Reactor 1 was commissioned in 1997. Reactors 2, 3 & 4 followed with each reactor capable of producing 1,000 megawatts (MW) of electric power (3.2 GW of thermal power). In 1986 the complex supplied 10% of Ukraine’s electricity and a further two units, 5&6, were under construction.
After Reactor 4 exploded, reactors 1, 2 & 3 continued to function. The last reactor was shut down in 2000, under pressure from Western Europe.
The rose coloured bass relief depicts the Dove of peace. It was hoisted into place just before the accident.
The artist was never paid.
The protagonist in my first novel – The Chemical Detective – uses the cranes of the New Safe Confinement project as waymarks to guide her to safety.
I have been fascinated by the project for many years, checking the web cams for progress, watching the time lapse photography as it glided (or stuttered) into place.
It is the most extraordinary achievement. The largest mobile structure ever built, big enough to cover St Paul’s cathedral and the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, it was constructed at a safe distance and conveyed over rails until it covered the stricken reactor and its crumbling sarcophagus. Funded by the European construction bank, the whole Chernobyl Shelter project cost a staggering 3 billion euros.
Inside the stainless steel arch are cranes that can be remotely operated to sort the contaminated debris and collect the remaining nuclear fuel. By the time the shelter comes to the end of its predicted 100 year life, the fragmented reactor underneath should be dismantled and made safe.
Fiona Erskine’s debut thriller “The Chemical Detective” will be published by the Oneworld imprint, Point Blank Books in April 2019.