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Roof, Walls Collapse at Chernobyl Plant

Friday, February 15, 2013

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Heavy snow accumulation has caused the collapse of a large section of the roof at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, but country officials insist that the site of the world's worst nuclear accident remains safe.

"Partial failure of the wall slabs and light roof of the Unit 4 Turbine Hall occurred" at 2:03 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 12) "above non-maintained premises" in the existing sarcophagus shelter that was built over the reactor after the 1986 explosion, the plant website reported this week.

The disaster spewed radioctive particles over 60,000 square miles in the western Soviet Union and Europe and six miles into the atmosphere. More than 500,000 workers ultimately fought to contain the fallout.

Chernobyl Roof
Ukrainian State Inspection for Nuclear Regulation

A photo by the Urainian government shows the roof section that collapsed.

The Soviet Union, which controlled the plant at the time, did not admit for days that the accident had occurred. The official Soviet toll of 31 casualties has been bitterly disputed for generations.

More than 115,000 people were permanently evacuated from what is now called the Exclusion Zone, an area with a 19-mile radius.

'Not Critical'

Tuesday's accident affected about 600 square meters (about 6,500 square feet) of the shelter structure built hastily after the disaster. That shelter covers 885,000 square yards of radioactive debris. Ukrainian authorities called the area damaged Tuesday "not critical" to the shelter structure.

Ukraine's emergency agency insisted that the collapse had caused no injuries and no increase in radiation.

Chernobyl roof
Ukrainian State Inspection for Nuclear Regulation

The roof was built after the 1986 disaster but is not part of the "sarcophagus" structure now under construction. The sarcophagus site was evacuated as a precaution.

"The preliminary reason for the collapse was too much snow on the roof," the agency said, adding that radiation levels were "within the norm."

New Sarcophagus Evacuated

The failed roof is not part of the new, 20,000-ton steel sarcophagus structure now being built over the stricken reactor, Ukraine said.

Work on the new sarcophagus—officially called the New Safe Confinement structure—began on April 26, 2012, 26 years to the day after the disaster. Completion is set for 2015.

Chernobyl shelter
Trulystand700 (left); Creative Commons / Carl Montgomery (right)

The new sarcophagusofficially, the New Safe Confinement structure (left)will cover the metal-framed concrete containment shelter (right) hastily erected over the ruined reactor in 1986.

French construction firms Vinci and Bouygues, operating as part of a consortium called Novarka, said this week that they had evacuated about 80 employees at the sarcophagus construction site as a precaution.

The workers were all given radiation checks, a Bouygues spokesperson said.

"Novarka is employing all measures to limit surface contamination," the spokesperson said. "These are currently within admissable limits."

Government Commission

Ukrainian authorities said on the plant's website that two commissions had been appointed to investigate this week's accident and that the site would publish the panels' findings.

One commission has been instructed "to provide proposals on mitigating the consequences within 14 days," the website said.

 

Chernobyl collapse Chernobyl collapse
Ukrainian State Inspection for Nuclear Regulation

Ukrainian government photos show the new damage at Chernobyl. "There is absolutely no risk," a spokeswoman said.

On Wednesday (Feb. 13), representatives of the Ukrainian Parliament, multiple government departments, and trade unions paid an official visit to the plant to inspect the damage.

The next step, the website said, will be a meeting with the State Agency on Exclusion Zone Management and local officials.

That meeting will include updates on the plant's decommissioning, the sarcophagus project, "implementing international projects, problematic issues of the Exclusion Zone," and protection of workers and citizens, the website said.

'Absolutely No Risk'

Chernobyl plant spokeswoman Maya Rudenko told Agence France-Presse that the existing sarcophagus had been strengthened from 2004-2008 and could last until 2023. She said the damaged area was about 55 yards from the ruined reactor.

"There is absolutely no risk," she told the news agency.

"Everybody should be absolutely calm," Rudenko told other news outlets. "Yes, it is unpleasant, but there is no danger."

Chernobyl 1986

A photo taken from a helicopter and released by Soviet authorities shows the core of Chernobyl's Unit 4 burning on May 3, 1986, one week after the explosion. The unit was the site of this week's roof and wall collapse.

For others, however, the new mishap reignited ongoing concerns about the safety of the complex 27 years after the disaster.

"Even if the radiation level has not changed, it's still an alarming signal," Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy program at Greenpeace Russia, told the Interfax news agency.

"If the panels in the turbine hall have collapsed, then in principle there is no guarantee that the sarcophagus, built in 1986, will not start falling apart in the near future."

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Maintenance programs; Nuclear Power Plants; Outdoor weathering; Power Plants; Roofing materials

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