The intense radiation still emitted by Chernobyl’s ruined Reactor 4 is currently contained by a rusting, decaying shelter of concrete and metal panels called the sarcophagus, built quickly immediately after the accident.
Now, seven years after the sarcophagus’ planned expiration date, suited and masked construction-workers are scrambling to finish its replacement: a gigantic metal igloo as tall as the Statue of Liberty and as wide as a football pitch. The BBC has an amazing story and images from the site, including a nifty explanation of how the two halves of the arch will be moved into place post-construction (the area around the reactor is too radioactive to allow on-site construction).
This isolation container is meant to last 100 years, which is still a drop in the bucket compared to the half-life of uranium. The hope, however, is that sometime during the next century, we’ll figure out how to lift out the remains of the reactor and bury it safely.
Eventually, when the arch seals off the reactor, the plan is for giant cranes to lift out the remains of the reactor and what’s left of the fuel, which melted and flowed like lava into chambers beneath it. But there are fears the cranes would quickly become so radioactive they could not be maintained, and would gradually stop working. There is also still no suitable nuclear waste dump in the country.
Philippe Casse acknowledges that getting rid of all this highly radioactive material will be far more difficult than building the arch.
"Disposal will be an even bigger project," he says.
"There is no money at the moment.
"It could be done in 50 years’ time. Perhaps there will be the technology to solve the problem then."
In the meantime, this gigantic arch will stand as an epic monument to our helplessness in the face of nuclear radiation’s duration and danger.