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Chernobyl Safe Confinement Completed

Thursday, August 8, 2019

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In a ceremony on July 10, VINCI Construction Grands Projets and Bouygues Travaux Publics, partners in the NOVARKA consortium, announced the completion of the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement.

During the celebration, the companies symbolically handed the keys over to Ukrainian authorities in the presence of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Steps to Make Chernobyl Safe

After the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP) in April 1986, causing the destruction of the Chernobyl 4 reactor, the Ukrainian government needed to contain the radioactive reactor core. According to the World Nuclear Association, the accident—which resulted in a steam explosion and fires—released at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere and downwind.

VINCI Construction Grands Projets

In a ceremony on July 10, VINCI Construction Grands Projets and Bouygues Travaux Publics, partners in the NOVARKA consortium, announced the completion of the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement.

Additionally, two Chernobyl plant workers died on site of the accident, while another 28 people died within weeks as a result of acute radiation poisoning.

Immediately following the disaster, 69 people from local fire brigades tried to extinguish the fire alone. In the weeks after, firefighters used 6,000–8,000 cubic meters of water (1.5 million U.S. gallons) to cool the reactor’s foundation; 80 helicopters poured 2,400 tons of lead into the destroyed reactor and another 6,000 tons of cement, sand, dolomite, boric acid and other materials into “the pit”; roughly 400 miners constructed a 135-meter-long (roughly 442-foot-long) tunnel under the reactor; and for 17 days robots attempted to remove graphite fragments from the roof until they had to be replaced by people due to breakdowns under extreme radiation levels.

After the site was contained, design work began in May 1986 for what is known as the “Sarcophagus,” or shelter object. Constructed of concrete and steel, the shelter object was completed in 206 days on Dec. 30, 1986. However, because of the fast construction rate, ChNPP reports that there were 1,000 square meters worth of cracks in the roof and walls of the shelter.

In 2008, stabilization methods were carried out to reduce the risk of structure collapse, prolonging the structure’s lifetime to last until 2023.

The Confinement System

With the help of more than 10,000 workers and technicians from NOVARKA, who put in a total of 33 million working hours, the construction of the New Safe Confinement for reactor No. 4 was officially completed and constructed in 12 years’ time.

Known as the Arch, the structure spans 257 meters (roughly 843 feet), is 162 meters long, stands 108 meters high and weighs 36,000 tons when equipped. The Arch is the largest moveable land-based infrastructure ever built and is slated to last 100 years. According to its designers, the NSC can withstand EF-3 tornadoes, magnitude 6 earthquakes and can handle temperatures ranging from -43-45 C (-43-109.4 F).

Starting with the preparation work, the team first had to remove various process materials and solid radioactive waste from the site before construction could begin. When the Sarcophagus was erected, contaminated materials were put underground. As a result, earth excavation had to be complete whilst treating the debris as radioactive waste in addition to the evacuation of various vehicles and mechanisms.

According to ChNPP, 39 cubic meters of concrete was poured just for the temporary and permanent arch foundations, while a total of 396 steel piles, 376 reinforced concrete piles and 8,000 tons of rebar were used as well.

The Arch was assembled in two halves that were lifted up using special jacks by Mammoet (Utrecht, Netherlands). The eastern part of the Arch was erected in 2013 and moved on special rails 112 meters aside. A year later, the second half was lifted and both sections were connected using 650,000 bolts.

“The challenges were monumental: to design a state-of-the-art prototype in an extremely constraining environment, constantly pushing against the limits of know-how, striving to secure the cooperation and endorsement of all the stakeholders worldwide, inventing materials that did not exist and unique construction methods,” said Patrick Kadri, Chairman of VINCI Construction Grands Projets.

“This project occupied a major part of our working lives. And we are all aware of the environmental progress that this achievement represents for Ukraine, its neighboring countries and the whole of Europe."

To ensure nuclear, radiation and general industry safety, an integrated control system was installed that will monitor radiation safety, seismic activity, structure monitoring, operation support systems and processing systems.

In November 2016, the Arch was moved directly over the Sarcophagus, where final works, sealing and installations of the auxiliary premises and equipment took place. In December 2017, the NSC began testing for operation. By January 2018, the Ukranian government announced that the nuclear power plant site would be converted into a solar farm, just 300 feet away from the NSC.

This project was engineered by Bechtel Corporation (Reston, Virginia), Battelle Memorial (Columbus, Ohio) and the ChNNP. The contractors responsible for the design, procurement and construction of the project were NOVARKA consortium, VINCI Construction Grands Projets and Bouygues Travaux Publics.

However, construction also involved professionals and other organizations from 27 countries. Major contractors included Cimolia (Porcia, Italy), who designed and manufactured steel structures; PaR Systems (Shoreview, Minnesota), who designed and manufactured the main crane system; and Okyanus Group (Besiktas/Akatlar, Istanbul), who designed, supplied and installed the cladding systems.

Financing for the project was provided by the specially established Chernobyl Shelter Fund, which was managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Although the CSF received donations from roughly 45 countries, the total cost of the Arch amounts to 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion).

"One doesn’t get a chance to be involved in two building sites like that one in one’s career," said Marc Adler, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Bouygues Travaux Publics.

"Because it was huge, because it was complicated, because Europe and the whole world had bet a lot on our success. Each of our trades really went into overdrive and surpassed themselves: the engineers, the radiation protection people, the employees in charge of executing the work, the project managers … not to mention the people in charge of human resources, who recruited staff in more than 30 countries. Chernobyl will be known in the history of civil engineering as a concentrate of innovation, and the engineers who took part in this project are already transmitting the teachings of this outstanding endeavor in engineering schools."

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 11:50 a.m., August 8, 2019, to correct the spelling of the Bechtel Corporation.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Completed projects; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Nuclear Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Z-Continents

Comment from Tony Rangus, (8/8/2019, 10:26 AM)

Bechtel not Betchtel.

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