Scientists propose burying Chernoby

28 February 1999

Ukrainian scientists have proposed a plan to bury Chernobyl’s crippled fourth reactor, as a cheaper alternative to dismantling it. The plan is to excavate a huge hole, 1000 metres deep, and allow the reactor and its Sarcophagus to “fall in” before filling and sealing it.

The technology has been developed by the Scientific Centre for Environmental Radiochemistry, the Kryvbasproekt Institute, the Mining Construction Institute and the Institute of Construction Technologies, among others. The project is estimated to cost $1.5 billion dollars and would use Ukrainian manpower, avoiding the need for expensive foreign experts.

At present the international consensus appears to favour strengthening or replacing the present Sarcophagus and then gradually extracting the radioactive debris from inside. Some Ukrainian academics are critical of this option. Academician Emlen Sabotovych is strongly opposed to any plan which involves container burial of the debris: “The foreign grant of $758 million is going by and large to Western firms and consultants,” he said. “Ten per cent of the amount goes to Ukrainian lobbyists, and there is no real benefit from that. Extracting the fuel from inside would mean exposing a large number of people, according to our calculations an amount equal to the population of Kiev, about 3 million people. It doesn’t bother the West, since it is our people who will be exposed.” Sabotovych explains that the fuel would have to be put into containers of 30-100 kg, according to IAEA requirements.

“We would have to put two million tonnes into such small containers! That is, we would need to make 20,000-66,000 containers. New plants would have to be built for the purpose. And even that is not all. Where would you bury them, since they are hazardous to health? This plan is unfortunately advantageous only to Western firms.” Sabotovych believes burying the reactor a kilometre underground would be cheaper and, possibly, safer. He points out that granite begins at a depth of 400 meters. The main concern of scientists is ground water.

Academician Dmytro Hrodzynskyy says: “We still do not know the geological structure. The Academy of Sciences will be performing some drilling next year to study the issue. We should not forget earthquakes either. Even though they are insignificant in the Kiev region, an increase in their strength has been observed in recent years. So if there is some seismic zone there, it could break up, and that would also be unsafe. But we have to support this idea in general, it is very promising.”

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