Dutch engineers perform mammoth task of shifting structure to cover Chernobyl
Thirty years ago the world was shaken by the largest nuclear accident ever. The explosion released 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs which fell on Nagasaki and Hirsohima. It was two days before the Soviet authorities reported the accident, but already radiation which spread across Europe was being picked up on monitors. Since then Chernobyl has come to symbolise the potential danger when something goes wrong at a nuclear power plant.
Now Dutch company Mammoet has helped move the New Safe Confinement over the nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The huge construction measuring 165 meters by 260 meters in length and width, towering 120 meters high and weighing over 30,000 tons was ‘skidded’ into place by clever engineering. The operation was carried out for Novarka – the joint venture in charge of constructing the steel protective structure.
The confinement is the largest land-based movable structure in the world. It replaces the fragile concrete construction which was built shortly after the nuclear accident in 1986. The New Safe Confinement has to be able to withstand earthquakes, extreme cold, fire and hurricanes. The construction cost two billion euros half of which was financed by the European Union and United States.
Mammoet’s prize-winning skidding system is fully remote control. The smooth operation is made possible by the synchronization of 116 skid shoes each carrying a load of 700 tons. The tracks on which the skid shoes slide was installed with a 33 degree angle to optimise the load transfer onto the foundations. It provides a controlled and weatherproof environment where the solid radioactive remains of the destroyed unit can be held for the next 100 years.
Mammoet developed and conducted all the jack up and skidding operations for the move. Some of the engineering challenges involved new approaches to heavy lifting and transport created especially for this project. Due to the nuclear radiation still affecting the area, construction of the confinement had to take place at a safe distance from the disaster site. The structure was built in two parts. The first half had to be moved to a special parking area while the second part was built and then the first half was skidded to the second part to join them together.
Sustainable energy region
The Ukraine government plans to designate the region as a hub for sustainable energy due to the large electricity infrastructure present at the site. It is hoped that the New Safe Confinement will inspire investors to move their operations to this area and boost the economy.