Inside Chernobyl's mega tomb that protects the world from deadly radiation

On April 26, 1986, the horrific Chernobyl nuclear disaster humanity unfolded in a corner of Russia, and has continued to have a devastating impact for many years

Take a look inside radioactive ruins of Chernobyl’s reactor no. 4

More than three decades on, the world’s worst-ever nuclear disaster is still having a devastating impact.

More than 36 years ago in 1986, a reactor at Chernobyl exploded during a routine test – resulting in horrific and deadly injuries for residents and workers alike.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone lies on the shortest path between Russia’s and Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv – which has sparked concern following recent conflicts.

The once-bustling town of Pripyat is still eerily deserted – and has become a bizarre tourist attraction for travelers intrigued by the disaster.

The area surrounding the town still records alarming levels of radiation, making it inhabitable and impossible for residents to ever return.

The new sarcophagus is seen with Chernobyl behind
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Image:

EBRD)

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At the time, it was feared that huge clouds of radioactive smoke could cover Europe, causing a further loss of life.

Authorities initially tried to hide that something had happened but it became impossible to hide as citizens fell ill with severe headaches, vomiting and hacking coughs.

A day after the explosion, buses finally arrived, allowing citizens to escape the deadly nightmare.

Dozens of heroic workers tried to put out the flames and make the reactor safe following the explosion.

Many sacrificed their own lives to save others, with many working around the clock to dump the sand on the structure and prevent a further loss of life.

Across the Soviet Union, coal miners were drafted in to help dig under the core and create a pool of liquid nitrogen to cool the nuclear fuel.

Finally, when the flames were contained, a massive concrete structure was erected – it took 206 days to build the first sarcophagus.

Workers used 400,000 cubic meters of concrete and 7,300 tonnes of metal framework in its construction.

Yaroslav Melnik, a firefighter brought in to help, recalled the incredible effort: “We worked in three shifts, but only for five to seven minutes at a time because of the danger.

“After finishing, we’d throw our clothes in the garbage.”

Dubbed the ‘liquidators’, thousands of these workers suffered long-term effects from acute radiation exposure.

The incredible shelter being built to cover the No.4 reactor
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Image:

The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

It was hoped that the structure would contain the deadly radiation leaking from the plant – but experiments showed dangerous levels were still escaping.

This required a bigger, more permanent solution – after all, the initial structure was only meant to be temporary.

Experts doubted such a feat of engineering would be impossible – as it needed to halt radiation from seeping out and entomb the plant.

It had been hoped it would contain the deadly radiation leaking from the nuclear plant – but dangerous levels were still escaping every day.

And this huge structure was only designed to be temporary -30 years after the explosion, things had become critical once again.

A solution was needed that would prevent the radiation from seeing out at such a rapid rate and keep the reactor entombed for as long as possible.

Finally, a group came up with a clever plan to cover the entire sarcophagus, with the reactor still inside it.

It was a mammoth task – and needed to be built next to the still radioactive site, and then moved to its final position, without risking workers safety.

Projections predicted it would cost more than £240 million.

In 1999, Vince Novak, director of nuclear safety at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, told how difficult it was to preserve the initial structure.

A closer examination revealed it was so precarious that it could have collapsed at any time, potentially risking another Chernobyl disaster.

He said: “The Soviets had lowered the beams into that sarcophagus using helicopters and the whole structure of the roof was in fact built the same way, using helicopters.

“Pieces had been dropped in one by one and not tied together.

“They were just sitting there and what quickly became apparent was that either these beams were sliding or that the wall was moving.

“It came to a point where the further movement of an inch or so would have led to the huge beams falling down. You would have a collapse of the shelter.”

Segments were shipped from Italy to Ukraine, before being transported by road – with around 18 ships and 2,5000 trucks used in total.

It took more than two years to assemble the structure, which included a ventilation system and remote-controlled robotic cranes to dismantle the existing structure and reactor.

Finally, it was erected on 29 November 2016, a mammoth but vital endeavor to make the world safe from the continuing threat of Chernobyl.

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