Chernobyl's 'sarcophagus', built to reduce spread of radioactive contamination, on verge of collapse: Experts

The sarcophagus, which was originally constructed in 1986, was built only to last 30 years and has been in an irrepairable state since 1996

                            Chernobyl's 'sarcophagus', built to reduce spread of radioactive contamination, on verge of collapse: Experts

Following the catastrophic explosion at reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26, 1986, the Soviet government had gone about hastily constructing a steel and concrete "sarcophagus" to reduce the spread of radioactive contamination.

That sarcophagus, which is at the verge of collapse, will now be demolished.

Experts have said there is a "very high probability" that the massive structure will come tumbling down and that it should be deconstructed before it's too late, reported the Daily Mail.

At the time of its construction in 1986, the sarcophagus was an engineering marvel, not just because of its scale but also because of the severe conditions under which it was built.

At the time, 600,000 liquidators worked tirelessly for half a year to build the structure which comprises of 16 million lbs of steel and occupies 14,125,866 feet.

Crane operators had worked blindly from inside lead-lined cabins taking instructions from distant radio observers while gargantuan-sized pieces of concrete were moved to the site in custom-made vehicles designed to survive the radiation.

But the sarcophagus was never meant to last very long and had an expected lifetime of 30 years.

The sarcophagus is on the verge of collapse (Source: Getty Images)

By 1996, the structure had deteriorated to the point where it was ruled that it would be impossible to repair because of the incredibly high radiation levels.

It was estimated that the radiation emitted from it was around 500,000 roentgen per hour—to put that into perspective, a lethal dose to a human is 500 roentgen over five hours.

So, in 1997, the international Chernobyl Shelter Fund was founded to design and build a more permanent cover, which was later christened the 'New Safe Confinement.'

Construction of the new structure began in 2010 and was designed as a metal arch 344 feet high and spanning 843 feet built on rails adjacent to reactor no. 4 so it could be slid over the existing sarcophagus.

In 2013, there was further proof that the initial sarcophagus was on its last legs.

In February that year, officials had to evacuate workers in the exclusion zone after a 6,500 sq feet section of the roof of the turbine building collapsed. Because of the sloppy repair work and aging of the sarcophagus, radioactivity had once again been released into the surrounding area. 

But, over the course of its lifetime, it had more than served its purpose. It locked in 200 tons of radioactive corium, 30 tons of highly contaminated dust, and 16 tons of Uranium and Plutonium.

The New Safe Confinement Unit has been designed to last 100 years (Source: Getty Images)

After a $2.3 billion outlay, the construction of the New Safe Confinement was completed in 2018. This past April, officials successfully concluded a 72-hour trial operation test of the structure, and in July, it was in place. 

Its presence means the government can now work on removing the sarcophagus, and the task has been assigned to a Ukrainian company which is already in charge of maintaining the safety at the power plant.

Its deconstruction will involve reinforcing sections of it, to help maintain its overall stability, while removing others. This process will be repeated as many times as necessary with the help of robotic cranes.

Once it has been dismantled, workers will then begin the clean up of the radioactive waste at reactor no. 4, a task that is expected to take until 2064.

Meanwhile, the New Safe Confinement Unit has been designed with the primary goal of confining the radioactive remains of reactor 4 for the next 100 years and will also facilitate the disassembly and decommissioning of the reactor.

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