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Progress on problems continues 21 years after Chernobyl accident

Despite delays and rising costs, there has been progress in dealing with the legacy of the April 26, 1986 accident that destroyed Chernobyl-4 and contaminated large areas of surrounding regions, Ukrainian officials said this month.

Among the tasks at the site is conversion of the “sarcophagus” covering unit 4 into a long-term safe facility, decommissioning of the three other reactors at the site, and safe storage of the spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.

Ukraine also is continuing measures to prevent a spread of radioactivity outside the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the officials said.

According to officials with state-owned operator Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, or ChNPP, the sarcophagus, or Shelter, does not have a significant influence on ambient radioactivity. Measurements since 1995 have shown no risk of accidental criticality from the remains of fuel under the unit 4 Shelter, where the maximum dose rate is 3,400 rad per hour, they said.

The main worry associated with the Shelter is the delay in concluding a contract for construction of a New Safe Confinement to replace the structure built in 1986. The tender for the NSC, announced in spring 2004 by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD, was suspended in 2006 at the request of the Ukrainian side. Precontract negotiations were begun recently with French-led consortium Novarka.

According to Ukraine's Ministry of Emergencies, Novarka has agreed to extend the validity of its bid until late May. Vladimyr Kholosha, deputy Minister of Emergencies, said in early April that Ukraine might sign the contract with Novarka in May, but an EBRD source could not confirm that schedule.

Site preparation work for the project is under way, including soil removal, redesign of the site's physical protection facilities, building of a new health inspection station, preparation of the construction basemat, and upgrade of access roads.

Work to stabilize the existing sarcophagus and extend its lifetime for another 10 to 15 years was concluded in December. That project was funded under the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP) administered by the EBRD and was realized under a 2004 contract by a joint Russian-Ukrainian consortium under the leadership of Atomstroyexport.

Representatives of the Emergencies ministry and Ukrainian parliamentarians gave high marks to the stabilization work during a visit to Chernobyl in mid-April, praising the courage of Ukrainian workers on the project.

At an April 19 press conference, ChNPP management said a new integrated automated control system called IASK is to be installed inside the sarcophagus by 2008. It is being developed by Italy's Ansaldo Energia and the Ukrainian company AvtoRemontServis. The system is under factory testing in Italy and cabling of the seismic monitoring system is under way, management said. IASK will include a stationary radiation control system and will provide seismic monitoring, supervision of building structures, and nuclear safety control. In early March, the Chernobyl nuclear safety center and Russia's IBS completed a integrated database on the Shelter facility. The database will provide storage for all the documents related to the facility, including information on work performed on the Shelter after the 1986 accident.

Decommissioning

Decommissioning work on the units is five to seven years behind schedule, Valentin Simonenko, head of the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine, said at a March press conference. He said the projected cost of decommissioning is now at least $2 billion, 1.5 to 2 times the initial projection.

Nestor Shufrich, Ukrainian Minister of Emergencies, has said $1 billion will be needed to complete three major decommissioning-related facilities and build the NSC. The facilities are for storage of spent fuel, processing of liquid radwaste, and processing of solid radwaste.

ChNPP officials said construction on two parts of the solid radwaste treatment facility are 62% and 85% complete, respectively, and that they are scheduled to be finished in June and December 2007. Plant officials said that project had been delayed by lack of coordination between the contractors, delays in preparation of documentation by the contractor (Nukem), and lack of qualified personnel from the Ukrainian subcontractor.

The liquid radwaste processing unit, for which Belgatom is the main contractor, is 97% complete, officials said. The plant was handed over to ChNPP on October 15, 2006. But equipment needed for modernization has not yet been transferred, plant officials said. Other problems include insufficient spare parts, lack of systematic documentation, and lack of software for the automated process control system.

ChNPP management considers removal of the remaining nuclear fuel from the shut units a priority, and thus completion of a dry storage facility of prime importance. The original contract for the facility with Framatome (now Areva NP) was terminated this week and a new contract with Holtec International is being prepared (see next story).

ChNPP continues removing fuel from unit 3 into the existing Soviet-era pool storage at an average rate of nine assemblies per day. Fuel removal was suspended in March and April because of lack of transfer flasks. It resumed in mid-April, and officials expect all fuel to be removed by this fall. Fuel from units 1 and 2 was removed earlier.

Decommissioning of power plant systems is also under way; to date, 42% of equipment and piping has been removed from operation. Also, 28 systems that continue to operate have been modernized.

Since 2004, about 800 tons of equipment and piping have been disassembled. ChNPP management hopes for lifting of a ban that currently prevents removal of metal from the Chernobyl zone, which would allow sale of the recovered materials.

Exclusion zone

As has been the case almost every year, warm weather brought fires to the Chernobyl zone this year. A fire assumed to have been set off by a cigarette butt burned for several hours around the site railroad on March 21, damaging 60 hectares (148.2 acres). According to the Emergencies Ministry, the radiation level of the burned grass was 5001,500 microrad per hour. No rise in radiation was registered at the Belarus border nearby.

In all, 118 enterprises and organizations are registered in the exclusion zone, including nine enterprises belonging to the Emergencies Ministry.

This March, the union representing exclusion zone workers threatened to stop work because of insufficient state funding. Nikolai Teterin, leader of the union, told a Kiev press conference that the employees had not been paid for two months and expenditures on occupational safety measures had decreased sharply. The enterprises' debts for electric energy and natural gas are continuously growing and now exceed $400,000, he said. Teterin noted that the 2007 state budget allots only $18.6 million for the liquidation of Chernobyl consequences, down from $23.8 million last year. He warned of financial, industrial and environmental crisis in the zone.

Nature reserve

Last month, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced his intent to create a nature reserve in the Chernobyl zone, to improve nature conservation and end poaching.

Animal life inside the zone is of considerable interest for scientists. Przhevalski horses have been imported there and bison are also to be brought in. The population of wolves has increased noticeably, and they have begun to migrate outside the zone. Local authorities in the Chernigov region say that the wolves have already attacked domestic animals and must be controlled so as not to pose a threat to both animals and humans.

The Natural Resources Ministry said the planned reserve will not be an uninhabited preserve, but rather a territory dedicated to conserving local wildlife.

Opponents of this idea doubt the new status will prevent poachers from killing animals in the zone and selling their meat on the black market, as they have been doing.

In recent years, as well, unauthorized removal of timber, scrap metal, and broken material from the exclusion zone has increased, and radioactive fruits, berries, vegetables, and fish are being sold at local marketplaces.

In mid-March, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a bill increasing the penalty for penetration into the zone from $50 to $170 for each violation. In Ukraine, the average monthly salary is $200. Removal from the zone of construction materials, transportation vehicles, mushrooms, berries, and other foodstuffs and domestic materials would henceforth be considered as a crime punishable by two to seven years' imprisonment.

However, Yushchenko vetoed the bill, on grounds the proposed fines were too high and that the bill allowed prosecution of the same infraction under both administrative and criminal law.

Virtual Chernobyl

Meanwhile, the website of the former - and now virtual - Chernobyl plant town (http://www.pripyat.com), has become very popular. Its editors include many who lived in Pripyat before the Chernobyl accident, including Alexander Syrota, chief editor of the site. Visitors to Chernobyl very often see representatives of the project in the zone clothed in their distinctive yellow suits.

The website information ranges from the history of Chernobyl and causes of the accident to remembrances and the latest news. Organizers of the project also make films, organize exhibitions, conferences, and various actions, provide support for delegations visiting Chernobyl and Pripyat, and conduct a project on conversion of Pripyat into a museum town.

More recently, another virtual Chernobyl has created a stir. In March, the Ukrainian company GSC Game World released a computer game called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Its scene is the post-accident Chernobyl zone and characters include mutants and gangsters. The player assumes the role of the stalker.

The characters swear at each other, drink alcohol, and perish; trucks cart away corpses. Paying in Soviet rubles, a player can buy all kinds of weapons or bribe a guard at the checkpoint.

GSC’s Oleg Yavorskiy told Ukrainian media that Chernobyl plant workers have shown interest in the game and “even their director visited us and played the Stalker.”

More than $5 million was invested in the game, and the expected total profit is at least $200 million, he said.

Автор: 
platts.com

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