Twenty four years after a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the nightmare is far from over. As another anniversary ticks by, attention for a moment turned to the former power plant and the threat it still poses. In particular, the huge concrete sarcophagus that entombed the destroyed the reactor. The concrete was plastered together pell mell after the accident and the work was roughshod. Not surprisingly, the concrete tomb hasn't held up well, and needs to be replaced, or else it could all come crumbling down, unleashing radiation still trapped inside.
Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich used the 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster to draw attention to the Chernobyl ongoing outfall, saying around 2 million people have illnesses caused by the radiation, and non-governmental organizations estimate the disaster has caused more than 700,000 early deaths.
Yanukovich pledged to give better care for Chernobyl victims and those who still have related diseases, calling that an issue of "conscience and honor."
The 1986 explosion blanketed Europe in a cloud of radiation, some detected as far away as Japan.
Death tolls, cancer rates linked to Chernobyl have been disputed, with Greenpeace arguing the nuclear industry, backed by spineless UN agencies, have grossly low-balled the figures.
The new data, based on Belarus national cancer statistics, predicts approximately 270,000 cancers and 93,000 fatal cancer cases caused by Chernobyl. The report also concludes that on the basis of demographic data, during the last 15 years, 60,000 people have additionally died in Russia because of the Chernobyl accident, and estimates of the total death toll for the Ukraine and Belarus could reach another 140,000.
Here's a link to the 2006 Greenpeace report.
Horrible though those figures are, it's the sarcophagus and its twenty thousan tons of concrete that should send shivers down our spines.
The Chernobyl Children's Project International points out that in 1988 Soviet scientists announced that the sarcophagus was only designed for lifetime of 20 to 30 years.
And now it is starting to crack, with some of the fissures covering 100 square meters.
As CPPI puts it:
These cracks and holes are further exacerbated by the intense heat inside the reactor, which is still over 200 degrees Celsius. The sarcophagus’s hastily and poorly built concrete walls, which are steadily sinking, act as a lid on the grave of the shattered reactor.
What's inside the damaged reactor?
About 216 tons of uranium and plutonium.
CPPI brushes a Guernica-like painting:
Twenty thousand tons of concrete floor is about to collapse into what has been described as a mix of radioactive lava and dust, which resulted from the dropping of tons of sand in the early attempts to put out the fire, formed by the fusion of molten fuel, concrete and dust.
Now, there are expensive, if not ambitious plans, to cover the whole mess up again, this time with an enormous 'arch.'
With lots of American money involved, U.S. business is picking up much of the scraps. Dick Cheney's former employer, Bechtel, is spearheading the project.
The steel arch enclosure—almost three football fields across and 32 stories high—will be the largest moveable structure ever built.
According to Wikipedia, the French consortium Novarka signed a contract in 2007 to build the 190 by 200 meter arch structure.
The project is huge as is the price tag, estimated at $1.4 billion.
A cash-strapped Ukraine just doesn't have that kind of money.
Plus, there have been numerous delays and false starts. The completion date now for the arch is 2013.
Hopefully, the sarcophagus will cooperate and won't cave in on itself before then.