Benchmarks needed for New Safe Confinement

01 August 2007

Delays and cost increases on the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement project have prompted the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) to recommend setting benchmarks for it before more pledges of donations are made.

After noting that site preparation and the stabilization of the existing shelter had been carried out at Chernobyl 4, the report goes on to explain some of the reasons why the project as a whole is around seven years behind schedule.

The implementation plan outlined in 1997 to cover the broken nuclear power plant and its makeshift shelter (also known as the sarcophagus) would have seen the job completed in March 2004 for a cost estimate of $758 million. However, delays in selecting a building contractor and arranging legislation on liability, among other things, have pushed completion dates back and costs up. Currently it is thought the project should be complete by around 2011 for a likely cost of over $1.2 billion.

If that estimate proved accurate, an additional $190 million would be required from donors. The GAO said: "According to State [Department] and UK officials, some donor governments may not have the resources - or may not be willling to provide funds beyond those already pledged."

The USA is the biggest single-country contributor, having pledged $203 million, of which it has already contributed $154 million, to a fund which now stands at $930 million. The project is overseen by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and paid for by a total of 29 countries and the European Commission.

The GAO also raised concerns about the third and final component of the project, meant to secure the plant building for the next century. An enormous arch structure is to be placed tightly over the ruined reactor building so that robotic mechanisms could remotely dismantle parts of the plant in a sealed environment. The arch would be an innovative one-of-a-kind structure, estimated to cost $500 million. The GAO have suggested that this cost could rise, partly because the final design of the structure still requires the approval of Ukrainian regulators. In addition, the discovery of more highly-radioactive waste to be removed within the plant could lead to the expansion of project scope, revision of plans and further delays. Another factor would be rising materials costs.

The report was written for the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and published on 27 July.

The GAO recommended that the US secretary of state work with other donor governments and the EBRD to establish benchmarks for the shelter project to be met before additional pledges of funds are made.

Further information

US Government Accountability Office: Construction of the protective shelter for the Chernobyl nuclear reactor faces schedule delays, potential cost increases, and technical uncertainties

WNA's Chernobyl Accident information paper

WNN: Decommissioning at Chernobyl