The final nuclear fuel rods have been removed from Chernobyl 3, the last nuclear unit to operate at the Ukrainian power plant, and a new radioactive waste management and disposal unit has been opened at the site.
|Viktor Yushchenko at ease during his tour
of Chernobyl (Photo: Mikoli Lazarenka)
The defuelling of unit 3, which closed down at the end of 2000, was witnessed by President Viktor Yushchenko as well as Ukrainian ministers and other dignitaries. The removal of the fuel, which is temporarily to remain in used fuel storage pools at the site, will allow decommissioning of the unit to move to the next phase with dismantling of equipment and systems that are no longer in use. The used fuel will eventually be removed to the SNF-2 dry storage facility, which is now being built by US-based Holtec International under a contract signed with Ukraine in September 2007.
Chernobyl's name has gone down in history as the site of the nuclear accident that took place 22 years ago. On 26 April 1986, a power runaway event in Chernobyl unit 4 wrecked the reactor, leading to a hydrogen explosion that destroyed the reactor building and exposed the radioactive remains of the reactor core. The three remaining reactor units, however, were vital to Ukraine's electricity needs and continued to operate for some years. Unit 2 shut down in 1991, unit 1 in 1996 and unit 3 in 2000, but their contribution to Ukraine's electricity supply was not fully replaced until two new reactors, Khmelnitsky 2 and Rovno 4, started up in late 2004.
The explosion resulted in the release of xenon gas, iodine, caesium, and some of the radioactive material from the reactor core into the environment. Most of the released material was deposited close by as dust and debris, but lighter material was carried by wind over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and to some extent over Scandinavia and western Europe.
During his visit to Chernobyl, President Yushchenko formally opened the first phase of the Vektor complex, which will handle the decontamination, recycling and disposal of radioactive waste from areas contaminated by the 1986 accident. Reports suggest that the first phase will start operations later this year, while a feasibility study and financing for the second phase are expected to be approved before the year end.
In the days and months following the accident, some 200,000 workers were mobilised from all over the Soviet Union for emergency recovery and clean-up operations. Those involved during the first day of the accident received by far the highest doses of radioactivity, and a total of 47 died over the following months as a result of the accident. During his visit, Yushcenko laid flowers at the memorial to the workers, known as the 'liquidators'.