In the days after a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine, workers rushed to entomb the site’s radioactive ruins in 7,700 tons of metal and more than 14 million cubic feet of concrete. But after thirty years, the corroding “sarcophagus” needs to be covered in a containment structure of its own.
Enter the arch. Measuring 345 feet tall, 532 feet wide, and 843 feet long, the 39,000-ton metal container was built starting in 2012. It couldn’t be constructed directly above the sarcophagus because Chernobyl’s radiation would have put workers at grave risk. So the massive structure was assembled 1,070 feet offsite and then slid into place over five days using 224 hydraulic jacks.
Now that the arch is properly positioned above the sarcophagus, robotic cranes will begin to demolish the metal-and-concrete sarcophagus as special vacuum cleaners collect its radioactive dust. The entire process as well as the arch’s structural and containment integrity will be monitored remotely through built-in cameras.
The $1.6 billion project was led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and built by the French consortium Novarka. A new containment structure will be needed to replace the arch in about another century.