A $2.1 billion construction project to cap the still-leaking Chernobyl nuclear power plant could be delayed for another two years because of escalating hostilities between Ukraine and Russia.
The Chernobyl plant sits just north of Kiev, Ukraine, about a two-hour drive away. It melted down in April 1986, and spread deadly radiation that caused multiple deaths and catastrophic long-term illnesses, including deformities in newborn children. It was the worst nuclear accident the planet has ever seen and an estimated seven million adults and children in the region were affected. The 28th anniversary of the meltdown is this Saturday.
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Chernobyl was part of the Soviet Union in 1986.
The plan was to put the cap on the Chernobyl plant by the end of 2015, a containment shield estimated to last for the next 100 years. But due to the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, that plan could be delayed until 2017, putting the local population at risk of severe illnesses and birth defects.
The European Union, and 17 countries, including Germany, Ireland, the U.S., U.K., Ukraine, and Russia, donated hundreds of millions of dollars in total to stop the leaking reactor. Work on the new cap, a huge, hanger-like structure, began in 2010, after a 13-year delay. The G7 group of nations and the EU had inked an agreement to replace a deteriorating cap on the plant in 1997.
Vincent Novak, the director of nuclear safety for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which oversees the financing from donor countries, warns: "We clearly see that our current contract for completion in October 2015 can't be maintained. The schedule is currently being revised, but is likely to be a year or two late.”
Adi Roche, chief executive and founder of the Irish aid and advocacy agency 'Chernobyl Children International' also warns: "Chernobyl is the old Soviet Union's deadly legacy to Ukraine and the world has very real reason to be extremely concerned about the ongoing threat it poses, especially at a time of great instability and growing hostility between Ukraine and Russia.” Roche adds: "What can never be forgotten is that the destruction caused by the deadly explosion at Reactor number 4 at Chernobyl was triggered by the release of just 3% of the radioactive material in the plant; the remaining 97% of this enormous 'ticking time bomb' of highly unstable nuclear material is still inside the crumbling Chernobyl complex.”
Roche is not just an outside observer; he has personally visited the Chernobyl 'radiation exclusion zone' nearly two dozen times since the meltdown in 1986, and has studied the progress of the construction of the cap, or sarcophagus, for the plant. Roche’s agency, based in Cork, Ireland, has delivered nearly $138 million in medical and humanitarian aid to the Chernobyl region, and has helped tens of thousands of adults and children in Ukraine, Belarus and Western Russia.
But because of the recent crisis with Russia, it recently had to suspend a $4.15 million cardiac surgery program in Ukraine, a program that has saved the lives of thousands of children born with genetic heart defects.
According to a statement, Roche says it appears Russia may have abandoned its pledge “to lead fundraising for the new sarcophagus cost overruns which now total hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Ukrainian politician Valerii Kalchenko recently told journalists: "Now the Russians will leave us on our own to finish the construction of the new sarcophagus and it is hugely uncertain whether they will provide the portion of the funds that they took responsibility for.”
Roche says: "Such uncertainty over where the money will come from to finish the task of completing the new sarcophagus and making the world a safer place is extremely worrying, coming as it does on the 28th anniversary of the Chernobyl explosion."