Chernobyl’s steel radiation shield

The hastily constructed sarcophagus that currently entombs Chernobyl’s failed nuclear reactor is in danger of collapse. The solution? A mammoth steel structure, built a few hundred meters away that will be carefully slid over the existing structure to seal it for the next 100 years.

On 26 April 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine was the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in terms of cost and casualties. On this day, reactor number four suffered an explosion, which resulted in thirty-one deaths and left countless others exposed to cancer-causing radioactive particles.

Approximately 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated regions of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

About the steel structure

The arch-shaped steel structure, officially called the New Safe Confinement, is approximately 100m tall, 150m in length and weighs more than 32,000 tonnes. It has been erected over the past four years in two parts that were joined together in April 2015.

The arch is constructed of a tubular steel frame and externally clad with three layer sandwich panels. Each piece of the internal frame is covered in polycarbonate to prevent the accumulation of radioactive particles.

The frame is not only resistant to radioactive particles, it is also strong enough to carry the weight of suspended cranes which will be used in the demolition of the existing structure once in place.

About the positioning

The area near the sarcophagus is too contaminated for workers to stay longer than a few minutes. As such, the huge moveable steel arch is being built 180m away and will eventually be moved to cover the existing structure.

To reduce the exposure to workers, the steel arch will slide along foundation rails using large, multi-stranded steel cables. The relocation is expected to take less than 24 hours and is scheduled to take place in 2017.

Strong enough to stand for 100 years

The strength and versatility of steel has enabled engineers worldwide to construct everything from buildings and bridges to railways, warships and now, a structure to contain harmful radioactive particles.

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Chernobyl's Steel Radiation Shield Is the Biggest Moving Structure Ever

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Featured image by Tim Porter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

All other images via CHNPP.