Nuclear expert warns Chernobyl ‘must be dismantled in next 100 years’ or it will collapse

Sinead Butler
Saturday 15 May 2021 15:29
Science and Tech

The Chernobyl plant is famous as the site of the world’s worst ever nuclear disaster, but it may also be a sleeping giant.

That is according to a leading scientist who has warned that the former plant “must be dismantled in the next 100 years” or else it will collapse.

Thirty-five years since the devastating explosion in Ukraine, Professor Neil Hyatt – an expert in radioactive waste management – told LADbible that nuclear reactions have been been detected deep within the abandoned plant.

And, he stressed, now is the time to act.

“If we don’t take it down, it’s going to fall down,” said Prof Hyatt of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

“The original shelter was built as a temporary facility to stabilise a situation and the New Safe Confinement is essentially the same thing - to buy us time,” he addedd, stressing that the structure “only buys us around 100 years or so.”

Prof Hyatt said he believes it is going to take “at least 50 years” and “£900 million” to decommission Chernobyl - so it’s not exactly going to be a straightforward task.

“These are orders of magnitude, and the reason is because we still don’t know everything we need to know to decommission it, about the material inside,” he added.

Scientists have recently recorded increasing levels of neutrons from inside the power plant

(AFP via Getty Images)

He went on to explain why decommissioning needed to start as soon as possible, outlining a timeline.

“If we don’t take it down, it’s going to collapse eventually. If you’ve bought yourself 100 years, you really need to start cracking on with the dismantling - probably in the next 20 years,” he said.

“You’ve got to have a really good programme underway in 20 years, then that takes 30-40 years to work its way through. And then you’ve got some more waste packaging to deal with at the end, and that’s 100 years gone.”

He added: “So it doesn’t feel like it’s very urgent, right, but actually 100 years in nuclear decommissioning timeframes is not a lot of time - the radioactivity lasts hundreds of thousands to a million years, so in the timeframe of the radioactivity, it’s quite short.”

Scientists are concerned about what will happen if action is not taken and the consequences of the power plant collapsing.

“It wouldn’t be cooling towers being blown up and it all falls down in a neat pile at once,” Prof Hyatt said.

“You would see parts of it that are structurally degraded fall down inside, and that would make the access problem even more challenging.

“And radioactive dust would be generated by that, which the Safe Confinement is there to contain.”

That sounds worrying, especially given that scientists recently recorded increasing levels of neutrons coming from deep inside the site and are trying to understand if an intervention is required to lower these levels.

Prof Hyatt described the fission reactions as the ‘embers in a barbecue pit’, as he emphasised the threat the power plant poses if it is left to collapse.

He explained: “I think to those of us who worry about and are engaged with it, and try in some small way to push it forward, it’s another reminder.

“I think for the wider world, very broadly, it is probably something that they’re going to think about for a week or two, or a day or two, and then it will be ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

“People like me and people I work with need to persuade our governments that they need to work with the government of Ukraine and deploy our technology.

“If we want to be a responsible nuclear nation, that means dealing with the legacy of our past and being responsible actor on the world stage, and supporting Ukraine in its decommissioning of Chernobyl. We do not in the future want to feel the consequences of not having acted now.”

Let’s hope that this issue is resolved within the next 100 years, especially since we’ve been given plenty of warning.

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