The world’s most famous and damaging nuclear meltdown is now being considered for the world’s largest solar power plant. The Ukrainian nuclear power station Chernobyl had a nuclear meltdown on April 26, 1986. Since then 1,600 square miles of land has been deemed an ‘exclusion zone’ as the radiation levels are too high for human health. But in a recent interview, Ukraine’s ecology minister said the government was negotiating with two US investment firms and four Canadian energy companies, which have expressed interest in the Chernobyl’s solar potential.
It would be among the modern world’s greatest technical ironies if one of the worst industrial accidents ever would be replaced with a solar power plant, one of the world’s safest energy technologies. Greenpeace estimates that 100,000 people will die of cancer as a result of fallout from the disaster. Interestingly, as a result of human activity within the region being minimized larger animal populations are thriving, while the smallest of animals – microbes that digest leaves – are showing signs of stress.
According to PVTech, the Ukrainian government is pushing for a 6 month construction cycle. Deploying this amount of solar power within such a time frame would involve significant resources being deployed. The proposed 1GW solar plant, if built today, would be the world’s largest. There are several plans for 1GW solar plants in development (Egypt, India, UAE, China, etc) – but none of them have been completed yet. One financial benefit of the site is that transmission lines for Chernobyl’s 4GW nuclear reactor are still in place.
“The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy,” Ukraine’s environment minister Ostap Semerak, 44, said at an interview in London. “We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap and we have many people trained to work at power plants. We have normal European priorities, which means having the best standards with the environment and clean energy ambitions,”
The European Bank for Reconstruction & Development has stated they would be interested in participating in 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.” A 1GW solar project – based upon a global market price of $1-1.5/W for large scale development – would cost between $1 and $1.5 billion dollars.
One interesting and perhaps important logistical concern to be considered: what constraints will the workers who build this be under? Will they have to wear radioactive suits and will they be able to work normal days? How will this affect the construction costs?