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Chernobyl Sarcophagus Mk II

April 20, 2011

26th April marks the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl.  The incident at Reactor Number 4 was, and may well remain, the worst atomic accident the world has every seen.

How can I say that given the events in Japan?  Quite simply because the outcome of Japan is still unknown.  The leaks have yet to be completely stopped and cool down yet to be accomplished.  Certainly not all the reactors in Japan will have the same international Level 7 warning that Reactor 4 was given in Ukraine.  It is still quite probable that the Japanese Level 7 reflects the cumulative affect of all the reactors and the worst case scenario with regards to wider environmental and health issues there.   I strongly suspect most of the actual reactors at Fukushima are individually given a lower risk category than that given to Reactor 4 at Chernobyl.

It can also hardly be claimed that despite the Chernobyl tourist industry, the existing sarcophagus is in good shape.  It is cracked.  Whilst it may still be fit for purpose, there is no guarantee that will be the case given its hasty construction at the time, hence the need to create a new sarcophagus.

On Monday, the EU announced an additional Euro 100 million towards the costs of the new sarcophagus, Japan a regular donor has its own Fukushima problems, and several other nations who regularly donate have painful economic issues and IMF involvement.  Many other nations will stand by their promises towards Chernobyl and given the current geopolitical struggle between the EU and Russia over trade agreements with Ukraine, as expected Russia pledged money to  counter the EU donations financially despite not being a long term donor previously.

Whilst the Chernobyl fund built up over the years will fall somewhat short of the entire costs after the donations this year, it is certainly now getting very close.  It will not take much from nations not usually involved in the Chernobyl fund to make up the difference.

After the Chernobyl commemorations in Kyiv next week EU leaders will hold a nuclear safety summit.  Chair and co-chair would seem to be EU Commission chief Jose Barroso and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.  Mr Fillon’s presence as co-chair is worthy of note.

When it comes to civil nuclear power, civil reactors of various designs, including MOX, France takes some beating.  France is extremely nuclear orientated in its energy production and was quite probably a driving force behind the EU Energy Plan that runs to 2050 and envisages a large increase in nuclear power facilities across the continent.  Whether events in Japan will change some of the proposed atomic generation to more conventional energy production around the continent we shall see.  Given statements from Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Estonia since the Japanese disaster it seems unlikely plans will change greatly.

The co-chair of Mr Fillon is notable also because those who are to construct the new Chernobyl sarcophagus are the French companies Bouygues and Vinci.  Both are indeed class acts, as I know from first hand experience, and will no doubt do a very good job.  That said, you cannot help but have one or two suspicions that Mr Fillon has an additional agenda.

Firstly, with both French contractors already awarded the contract for the sarcophagus, the additional EU money has a strikingly similar feel to a lot of US Aid.  By that I mean the money is given to a nation and then channeled back to US companies.  EU money boosting the French economy is good for the EU regardless of the benefits to Ukraine.

Secondly, given within the Ukrainian Energy Plan to take us to 2030, there are a lot of new nuclear reactors in their energy mix going forward.  Thus far Russia and India have contracts to build – you cannot help but think Europe’s leading civil atomic powered nation will  end up building in Ukraine as well……an announcement shortly after this atomic safety meeting  forthcoming perhaps?

Maybe I am being overly cynical.  France certainly knows a thing or two about civil nuclear power, so why shouldn’t it co-chair a nuclear safety summit of European nations?  France is certainly looking at Ukraine seriously for the future, having announced an Honourary Consul dealing with trade will “take up residence” in Lviv sometime this year.  Regional presence is essential when dealing with what are, in reality if not on paper, almost federal regional administrations.

Proposed Chernobyl Sarcophagus

The new sarcophagus will be – and without boring you with technical details – a 20,000 tonne, 108 meter high, 190 meters wide concrete dome that will be built and then move by track over Reactor Number 4…….well I know you want to know what it will look like!

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