25 Years Later, Racing to Shield Chernobyl’s Reactor

A quarter-century after the deadly 1986 disaster, Chernobyl’s infamous reactor No. 4 continues to emit harmful radiation.

The 300 "worker ants" dressed in white overalls who bustle about 30 m below are already part of another world: the world of the atom, where the workers can stay no more than five hours a day for one month before leaving the premises for 15 days of rest.

To limit the volume of radiation, the shield — which is supported by a 23,000-ton metal framework — will be assembled exactly 300 m west of the damaged reactor. Another 100 m further to the west, radiation levels will be lower still, but the building site will bump into the limit of the safety zone, which is protected by two rows of barbed wire and watched by the Ukrainian secret service. To the east they face other constraints: the whole area is occupied by reactor No. 3, which Ukrainian authorities still hope to make work again.

Unlike the people promoting the Novarka project, Vladimir thinks the shield will result in a slow social death for Chernobyl. "The plant might close sooner than expected, and there will be less work for us." Vladimir cares little about the technical wizardry of the Western engineers. He is still attached to his little radioactive cocoon.

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