Chernobyl may have a sunny future – of a sort

28 August 2016

The Ukranian government hopes to turn Chernobyl, the site of the world’s most famous nuclear meltdown, and now its most valueless piece of real estate, into a vast solar power plant. If the plan comes to fruition soon it will become the largest plant of its kind in the world.

Since the catastrophe in April 1986, the nuclear plant site, with its reactor entombed in a concrete sarcophagus at the centre of a 1600 square mile heavily irradiated exclusion zone, has been useless for all normal human purposes. However the Ukrainian government believes it has now found a use for the place.

In a recent interview in London, Ukraine’s ecology minister Ostap Semerak said that the government is negotiating with two US investment firms and four Canadian energy companies to develop Chernobyl’s solar potential. The area is uniquely suited for the purpose — the land is extremely cheap, much of the required infrastructure such as roads are already built, and the power lines that served the 4 GW nuclear plant are still useable.

It is believed that Ukraine is looking to build a 1GW solar plant put together on a 6-month construction cycle. Such a project would cost between $1 and $1.5 billion, a figure based upon a global market price of $1-1.5/W for large scale developments.

Reportedly the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development has expressed an interest in supporting the project, “so long as there are viable investment proposals and all other environmental matters and risks can be addressed to the bank’s satisfaction.” One issue that remains undetermined is what safety constraints will be imposed on the construction crew and site workers, specifically, how much exposure will be considered safe, whether or not protective suits will be needed on a permanent basis, and how these considerations would translate into building costs. 

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