The keys to the New Safe Confinement (NSC) system built around the site of the 1986 Chernobly nuclear plant disaster have been handed over to Ukraine, the exchange a significant milestone that allows the trial run for operations of the NSC has been successful.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development formally passed along ownership of the project and the massive containment system for the damaged plant on July 10, according to media reports. The signature achievement was construction of a 36,000 ton arch built in halves near the accident site, then put together and moved into place over the third and fourth power units at the plant. The arch is also 108 meters high, 162 meters long and has a span of 257 meters. It is expected to last 100 years, allowing for decommissioning of the plant. It cost $1.69 billion to build and is the largest movable land-based object ever built.
Besides long-term maintenance and decommissioning, the next step, according to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is to turn the lemon into lemonade. Since April 1986, when the accident occurred, it has been hard to recall one defining incident or achievement by Ukraine beyond the enormous white elephant in the room – the power plant where the worst nuclear power plant accident occurred. Now that the site is safely tucked under the massive arch, President Zelensky said it was time to turn the site into a tourist attraction. The change in ownership of the site signifies a new era has begun, he said. “Until now, Chernobyl has been a negative component of the Ukrainian brand. It’s time to change that.”
”We must showcase this place to the world, to scientists, ecologists, historians, tourists,” he said.
Tourists have already figured this out. Close to 70,000 tourists visited the site last year, viewing the enormous sarcophagus and visiting the nearby town of Pripyat, which was built to house workers at the plant.
Ecological studies have long indicated a surprising recovery among wildlife in the area. Brown bear, bison, wolves, lynx and Przewalksi horses, along with 200 species of birds now inhabit the area that is, ironically, void of human activity. The nearby forest that is in Ukraine and neighboring Belarus, which died immediately after the accident remains an exclusion zone for humans. Yet remote cameras sited in the exclusion zone show a startling recovery of plants and animals 33 years after the accident.
According to Nuclear Engineering International, the Association of Chernobyl Tour Operators is attempting to have the exclusion zone designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
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