Risk to Sarcophagus growing

1 February 1998

The foundations of the steel and concrete Sarcophagus covering Chernobyl’s destroyed reactor are becoming weaker, although there is no immediate risk of collapse, according to Artur Korneyev, deputy director of operations at unit 4. “It is not the roof but the foundations which are worsening,” says Korneyev. “They are already 11 years old and we have no money to repair them. They get worse each year, but there’s no serious deterioration.” Other officials are less optimistic about the state of the roof. Valentin Kupny, who is responsible for the Sarcophagus, says studies last year showed that the roof of the concrete-and-steel shelter is weakening and the beams holding it up are in “catastrophic condition”.

According to Kupny, latest information shows that the quantity of radioactive dust in the former reactor hall is greater than previously believed. “The greatest danger, however, is the possibility that the roof of the facility could collapse, leading to the formation of a radioactive dust cloud that would affect personnel at the station and within the 30-km exclusion zone.” He added that “none of the currently-available options for stabilising the structure can be implemented without subjecting employees to high doses of radiation. Although new techniques are currently being developed, the absence of adequate finance makes it impossible to ensure the protection of personnel during future work”. He noted that in 1997 nearly 4000 t of water had been pumped from the turbine room for processing at the plant itself.” However, better methods are needed for processing large quantities of water with a high content of transuranic elements, which comes from underground rooms of the reactor section. This problem has not been solved yet.” He is concerned that inadequate information about the condition of a number of rooms in the facility was hampering work to devise a fire protection procedure for the containment facility.

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