A key contract has been signed by a consortium of Western and Ukrainian partners to start transforming the Sarcophagus shelter around Chernobyl’s crippled fourth reactor into an ecologically safe structure. Finalising of the deal was announced by BNFL Engineering Ltd (BEL), part of the ICC (MK) Joint Venture. BEL said the multi-million-dollar contract was signed with Energoatom, which is responsible for the Chernobyl plant, but the value of the contract was not revealed.

The project, involving the provision of engineering consulting services for the Shelter Implementation Project (SIP), is part of the Chernobyl programme funded by the G7, Ukraine and other donor countries through the EBRD. Other members of the ICC (MK) Joint Venture are Morrison Knudsen – which recently teamed up with BNFL to buy the Westinghouse nuclear business units – and three Ukrainian organisations – the state construction research institute (NIISK), the Kiev design R&D institute, EnergoProekt (KIEP) and the inter-disciplinary scientific and technical centre Ukryte (ISTC).

The project will consist of the evaluation and integration of existing information, structural investigation work, monitoring of the existing structure, geotechnical investigations, analysis of seismic characterisation and monitoring, and the development of a pre-conceptual design to convert the shelter, and eventually Chernobyl 4, into an environmentally safe site. In March, the EBRD announced that donor countries had approved two grants worth $41 million to set up a project management unit and provide support for Ukrainian nuclear regulators with the SIP project. That same month, the EBRD signed a grant agreement with Energoatom, releasing $30 million for project management work. Donor countries have pledged nearly $400 million to the overall shelter programme, although the full cost of the work, involving some 22 separate projects, has been estimated at almost $800 million.