Chernobyl is the site of a former nuclear reactor that exploded back in 1986, a catastrophic event that killed over 30 people in the first three months of the aftermath and has affected countless others to this day. The abandoned area around the former facility is now a popular tourist spot. It’ll soon be home to upwards of 100 megawatts of solar power generation in the future.
Only the Fukushima nuclear disaster and what took place in Chernobyl qualified as a Level 7 disaster, the highest classification of an energy accident. A flawed reactor design with workers that weren’t trained well for a safety test proved to be fatal. Steam caused multiple explosions and fire rapidly spread over the area. Years later, Chernobyl now features safety zones with 19 square miles around the disaster still blocked off.
Rodina Energy Group and Enerparc Ag will be working on a $1.2 million project that places one megawatt worth of solar panels in close proximity to the deactivated reactor. Both companies are capitalizing on the Ukrainian government redeveloping and offering around 1,000 square miles of land for cheap. While the area isn’t safe for farming, it creates an ideal situation for renewable energy as power lines are still connected in the evacuated zone.
“Bit by bit we want to optimize the Chernobyl zone,” Evgeny Variagin, CEO of Rodina Energy, told Bloomberg. “It shouldn’t be a black hole in the middle of Ukraine. Our project is [over 300 feet] from the reactor.” Rodina has installed 150 megawatts worth of solar panels in their portfolio.
Both Rodina and Enerparc could develop up to 100 megawatts at Chernobyl. However, that’s only a small fraction of the nuclear reactor’s capacity. There were four total active reactors with a gigawatt capacity each, and two more were under development at the time of the explosion. Those were halted three years after the accident.
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The Ukrainian firm isn’t the only energy company that is developing in the area. According to Bloomberg, companies from France and China are interested in building solar farms on the redeveloped land. In particular, Engie SA in France is “conducting a pre-feasibility test with a gigawatt-sized project in mind.” It’s been a study since last July to see if the project could work.
How will construction and maintenance workers be safe in this hazardous environment? A new high-tech metal shelter has been built around the contaminated area so it won’t be radioactive. Part of the reactor’s structure is still up, and a collapse could spawn even more contamination in the air. Should a collapse happen, this would contain some of the radiation.