Hendricks: the nuclear ruins of Chernobyl must be permanently and safely sealed off from the environment

On the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks is urging a speedy completion of the new shelter for the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. "The ruins of the nuclear reactor must be permanently and safely sealed off from the environment. We cannot risk destroying the progress made over the past 29 years, because the international community cannot agree on the financing of measures for safe enclosure."

On 26 April 1986 an explosion shook unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. After the accident, the absolute priority was the fastest possible confinement of the radioactive material in order to prevent the further spread of radioactivity: Within a just few months, the existing sarcophagus was built. However, it is increasingly dilapidated; its lifetime is limited to 20 to 30 years. If it collapsed radioactivity would be released again. Since 1997 the international community has therefore assisted the Ukraine in the creation of the new permanent shelter with the aim of safely enclosing the ruined reactor and a subsequently dismantling it.

However, the completion of the project is currently at risk: to complete the project a total of around 615 million euros is needed. To keep the project from failing, a pledging event for further financing will take place in London on Wednesday, 29 April 2015. The conference will be chaired by State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry Jochen Flasbarth within the framework of the German G7 Presidency.

As part of its Presidency of the G7, Germany is pressing for the swift completion of the New Safe Confinement for the destroyed Unit 4 and is calling for secure financing of the construction costs through the Chernobyl Shelter Fund (CSF). Germany's contribution to date to this pot of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) amounts to approximately 90 million euros. In line with the key objectives of the federal budget adopted by the German Cabinet, the Germany is prepared to pay up to a further 18 million euros into the fund over the next four years. In addition to this, Germany pays a large share of the European Union contribution to the fund.

This nuclear disaster had far-reaching and long-term impacts on health, environment and economy, posing great problems for the Soviet Union and subsequently for Russia, Belarus and in particular Ukraine. Vast regions are still contaminated today. A 30km zone around the nuclear power plant is still designated a restricted area.

Still, a great deal has been achieved over the past years: 

  • International exchange and practical cooperation in safety issues have been intensified.
  • Occupational and environmental safety at the site has significantly improved.
  • Two-thirds of the construction work for a New Safe Confinement for the damaged Unit 4 has been done. Final completion is planned for 2017.
  • The problem of the unstable sarcophagus has been solved for the medium term.
  • The remaining units 1 to 3 have been permanently shut down and are currently being dismantled.
  • Construction of an interim long-term storage facility for spent fuel elements is underway. 

This New Safe Confinement (NSC) is to secure the nuclear ruins. The gargantuan structure spans 257 metres, is 162 metres long and 108 metres high. The two halves of the NSC are currently being connected. The remaining revetment and installation of interior equipment is being carried out at a safe distance from the shelter before the protective shelter is moved to its final position over Unit 4.

24.04.2015 | Press release No. 089/15 | Nuclear Safety