The Chernobyl Shelter – the work commences

7 February 1999

The international remediation project to protect and strengthen the Chernobyl Sarcophagus – the Shelter Implementation Plan – is now fully mobilised. The project structure is in place, the Project Management Unit established, initial contracts given out and work on some critical items already started. by VINCE NOVAK and IAN D HERIOT

Established in 1991, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) aims to assist the countries of central and eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to develop market economies following the collapse of communism. In addition to financing a wide range of business and industrial ventures, the EBRD has a strong role in infrastructure development, the energy sector being a major beneficiary. Nuclear safety is a key target and early in the Bank’s life the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA) was established to mitigate safety deficiencies in the early Soviet-designed VVER 440/230 PWRs and the RBMK BWRs. Because of this unique experience, it was natural for the G-7 nations to invite the Bank to operate the international Chernobyl Shelter Fund (CSF) that has the objective of converting the existing Shelter to a safe condition.1 This is part of a more extensive programme of energy sector projects that will support the undertaking of Ukraine to permanently close the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant by year 2000.2 This remediation project, known as the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP), has evolved from a number of EU Tacis precursor studies5 conducted following the 1986 accident.3 The SIP4 is a decision-based project plan with an indicative cost of $750 million and a project duration of 8-10 years. SIP is a uniquely complex, difficult and dangerous project that is now fully mobilised within a novel infrastructure of project arrangements.6


The EBRD has a major role as the administrator of the CSF to ensure that the contributors’ funds are effectively spent and that all contracting is conducted in a completely fair and transparent fashion according to the Bank’s Procurement Policies and Rules (PP&R).7 The EBRD’s CSF project team is a part of the Nuclear Safety Department (NSD) that is also responsible for the administration of the Nuclear Safety Account projects aimed at improving the safety of early Soviet-designed reactors. As an integral part of the EBRD organisation, the NSD benefits greatly from the broad range of skills available elsewhere in the Bank. The CSF team is based in London but team members travel regularly to Ukraine and there is also a local representative based in Kiev. The team has direct project accountability to the CSF Assembly of Contributors, representing 20 countries and the EU. The assembly, which has the role of a board of directors for the governance of the CSF, meets on a quarterly basis to discharge formal business but regular communication is maintained with the chairman, Hans Blix, and members on a bilateral basis.

The responsibility for project implementation lies with the beneficiary, the nuclear utility Energoatom that operates the Chernobyl plant. An Energoatom Project Management Unit (PMU), jointly staffed by the plant and a Western consultant, has been established for day-to-day project management including supervision of contractors. A number of other organisations have important linkages to the project, as depicted in the diagram below.

The Ukrainian Nuclear Regulatory Administration (NRA) has a pivotal role in approving all work on the Shelter. NRA is itself undergoing a transition from the previous, Soviet-based prescriptive licensing approach to the Western style of regulation. This is being supported by a CSF-funded licensing consultant, who is also assisting the management of the evaluations undertaken by the technical support organisation, the State Scientific and Technical Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (SSTC). The consultant is now mobilised in the SSTC offices in Kiev and a contract has been placed for the technical evaluations. The CSF is both financing the technical evaluations and providing modern computing equipment to enable the essential, complex nuclear and structural analyses to be undertaken. Strengthening the regulatory process is regarded as a prime element of policy in all EBRD nuclear safety projects.

The EBRD/Ukraine Joint Committee is a high level forum for the resolution of policy issues which are beyond the remit of the Project Management Unit (PMU). A recent example has been giving effect to the tax-exempt status of SIP, as foreseen in the Framework Agreement between the Bank and Ukraine. The joint committee is a most important vehicle for the development of harmonious working relationships with the Government of Ukraine.

The International Advisory Group has been established to provide top-level technical advice to the Bank and the CSF contributors. The members are appointed in an individual capacity on the basis of their expertise and international reputation, not as representatives of particular countries, organisations or interests. The IAG will shortly be examining proposals for emergency works and later will be considering the options for the overall structural stabilisation concept.


The PMU was established in April 1998 and has parallel staffing with counterparts from Energoatom and the PMU Consultant consortium. This group was appointed by Energoatom after a two-stage international tendering process. EBRD pre-financed consultants to develop terms of reference and full tender documentation to enable the contract to be concluded as soon as finance was available from the CSF. In the following months the PMU managed the tender action and placed contracts with four major consortia for the “Early Biddable Projects” (EBP) based on technical specifications also pre-financed by EBRD. EBP tasks were identified in the SIP study4 as necessary work to improve the knowledge base of the project, to establish a working infrastructure and to improve the safety regime on which the remainder of the project would be based. This work comprises Phase I of the project leading to the first programmatic milestone P 1, planned for the early summer of 2000, when the major technical decisions will be taken and the industrial structure determined for the implementation of the Phase II of the project.

Consortia comprising experienced Western contractors and local Ukrainian companies have been appointed for all EBP contracts. Over 60% of the professional man-hours and intellectual content are being sourced from Ukrainian organisations. The tender action for these contracts demonstrated the value of the Bank’s PP&R procedures in securing a very competitive and level playing field and a very high standard of evaluation and contract negotiation. All the organisations depicted in the SIP Phase I Industrial Participation figure are fully mobilised in Ukraine and excellent working relationships have been developed between the Western and local team members. Results are already evolving, particularly from Package A which is the major contract with a dominant influence on the final technical solution for the Shelter.


The SIP Study4 of April 1997 envisaged the implementation of a number of urgent repairs to the existing Shelter fabric within a phased programme of overall remediation. Subsequently, further degradation to the Shelter has become apparent and a review of priorities has become necessary. Two critical items have had to be addressed: the ventilation stack and the main Shelter roof support beams B1 and B2.

The ventilation stack originally served both Units 3 and 4 and retains an essential role as a part of the safety system for the still-operating Unit 3 in the event of a failure in the main steam / water circuit. The lattice steel supporting structure was damaged during the 1986 accident but was never repaired due to the personnel risk from the adhesion of radioactive debris. The condition deteriorated further and a potential collapse due to stress of weather or a seismic event could have had serious consequences for either Unit 3 or the Shelter. An emergency repair was completed in the summer of 1998 financed as a bilateral contribution to the SIP from USA and Canada.

A local Ukrainian contractor Ukrenergobud with project management support from Battelle Memorial Institute (BMI) and the Chernobyl Object Shelter Organisation (OSO) undertook the work. This demonstrated the value of joint Ukrainian/Western projects since the application of BMI expertise enabled the personnel radiation dose to be reduced to about 10% of the previously envisaged level.

The main roof beams, B1 and B2, rest on the original west wall of the Unit 4 which was seriously damaged in the 1986 accident. Due to the extremely high radiation fields prevailing at the time of construction it was not possible to make a physical connection between the beams and the wall, which is moving outwards in an erratic fashion. The remaining lifetime before support is lost and the beams collapse cannot be predicted. An urgent repair is essential to avoid the serious environmental consequences of a roof collapse.

A technical design has been prepared and project planning is at an advanced stage. A major issue is devising a working strategy to facilitate access and welding operations whilst minimising radiation dose in accordance with the ALARA criterion. The picture below showing the main roof beams highlights the area where a repair is to be made, although this is now fully enclosed within the Shelter structure. A full-scale mock-up is to be used to plan working methods and train the operators who will undertake the work. Access equipment is being procured to allow a safe approach to the working area some 70 metres above ground level. The repair is expected to start in the spring of 1999 when weather conditions permit.


A major investment is to be made in improving both nuclear and conventional safety through the purchase of radiological protection equipment, radiation monitoring systems, dust control materials and fire safety equipment. In addition, there will be a major refurbishment and equipment of the contractors’ area used for the construction of the Chernobyl plant, known as the Stroibaza. This already has road access, rail sidings and warehouses but the whole facility has deteriorated since the 1986 accident. Clearance of vegetation and nuclear contamination will be required before refurbishment can take place and heavy equipment installed. Procurement of the various goods and works will be undertaken as the operational strategies and specifications evolve during 1999.

A major achievement has been the establishment of a proper risk management regime. The Government of Ukraine has agreed to provide a “Nuclear Guarantee” which will provide benefits similar to those accessible under the Vienna Convention but in non-Convention countries. Conventional, non-nuclear risks are to be covered by an overall project insurance issued by a Ukrainian insurer but fully re-insured by three consortia of Western underwriters. This is a cost-effective solution which, together with the Nuclear Guarantee, provides the necessary degree of comfort to all existing and future participants in the SIP and makes the best use of limited market capacity for this cover. It is believed that this is a unique arrangement.6


The project is now decisively in hand with all key contracts let for Phase I. The organisational, managerial and political frameworks are in place and work is well advanced on emergency measures and development of the working environment for Phase II. So far, the CSF has received pledges for about $350 million in monetary contributions and $50 million as an in-kind contribution from Ukraine. This has been sufficient for immediate commitments of about $170 million to Phase I of the project and allows the SIP to proceed at full speed over the next two years approximately. A working party of existing contributors, strongly supported by the EBRD, is examining all avenues for fund raising, including non-governmental sources. The securing of adequate funds for the completion of the project remains a prime activity to ensure the continuity and the momentum of the project beyond the year 2000.

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.