Quirks & Quarks

Robots, radioactive waste - what happens next at Chernobyl

Chernobyl's hundred year solution to the world's worst nuclear accident is a massive arch built to contain radioactive fallout.
In this Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 photo an arch-shaped shelter, in Chernobyl, Ukraine. ÔªøA gargantuan arch-shaped shelter has begun creeping toward the exploded Chernobyl nuclear reactor, in what represents a significant step toward liquidating the remains of the world's worst nuclear accident. Ôªø(European Bank for Reconstruction and Development via AP) (The Associated Press)

Thirty years ago the Chernobyl nuclear reactor triggered what would become the world's worst nuclear accident. We know that today, but back in the waning days of April, 1986, there was a lot that Soviet officials didn't want us to know.

A playground in the deserted town of Pripyat, Ukraine, about 3km from the Chornobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

But a catastrophic nuclear disaster isn't easy to hide. Clouds of fallout started racing across borders. Hours after the Soviet's initial denial, officials finally fessed up. It didn't take long for the awful reality of the catastrophic nuclear disaster to become clear - a sharp spike in cases of thyroid cancer, many deaths estimated in the range from 4-thousand to a half a million.

A wolf looks into the camera at the 30 km (19 miles) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Orevichi, Belarus, March 2, 2016.REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

A hastily constructed concrete sarcophagus was built around the damaged reactor number 4, but it wasn't structurally sound. There were holes in the roof. Parts of it threatened to collapse. A real fix was desperately needed. And this week - that happened.

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Chernobyl's hundred year solution is a massive arch that has just been rolled over the site. Its goal is to prevent radioactive material from further leaking into the environment. 

The control room, with its damaged machinery, is seen inside reactor No. 4 in the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. ((Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press))

Jodi Lieberman is an independent nuclear policy analyst who's worked with organizations like the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She also writes a regular column, Nuclear Roundup, for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. She says, in a way, she feels a sense of closure now that this new confinement structure is in place. 

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