Chernobyl Is Producing Energy Again

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Ukraine has launched its first solar plant in the abandoned area around the former Chernobyl power station. Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

When you put the words "energy" and "Chernobyl" together, the immediate association is probably "nuclear," and it's not a good association, either.

But Chernobyl, the site of nuclear meltdown 32 years ago, has received an energy makeover and is now producing solar power for the Ukraine.

The solar initiative should give the uninhabitable area a new lease on life and provide enough energy for a medium-sized village.

Time and sunshine to heal wounds

About 3,800 photovoltaic panels have been installed just a few hundred feet from the No. 4 reactor.
About 3,800 photovoltaic panels have been installed just a few hundred feet from the No. 4 reactor. Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded April 26, 1986. The plumes of fire spread radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which quickly spread across the former Soviet Union and parts of Western Europe.

The Chernobyl power plant and its surrounded area — some 770 square miles (2,200 square kilometers) — has sat empty since. The last reactor, No. 3, went offline in 2000, and the No. 4 reactor was encased in large concrete sarcophagus not long after the incident, with a New Safe Confinement structure placed over the sarcophagi in 2016. Both coverings are intended to prevent the spread of nuclear dust and particles left from the explosion.

The area surrounding the plant has an exclusion zone that bars all but 200 people from living there. Without human interference, nature and wildlife have flourished in the area, and the plant remains empty. The land itself is uninhabitable for humans for another 24,000 years or so and is unfit for farming. However, it's still fit for energy production, just not energy of a nuclear nature.

Chernobyl site, Ukraine
Renewables offer a whole new slate of possibilities on sites like Chernobyl that would otherwise sit stagnant. Stefan Krasowski/Flickr

That's where a 1-megawatt solar power plant located a mere 328 feet (100 meters) from the New Safe Confinement dome enters the story. The collection of solar panels and their facilities cover some 4 acres (1.6 hectares) and supply enough electricity to power a medium-sized village, or about 2,000 apartments.

Ukrainian energy company Rodina and Enerparc AG in Germany, the two companies spearheading the project, opened the plant with a ceremony on Oct. 5.

With the land unfit for much else other than nuclear tourists, and a direct connection to the country's power grid already in place, the solar plant could become quite large. According to Agence France-Presse, Ukrainian authorities have offered investors another 6,425 acres to expand the size of the solar plant at a relatively low price. Ukraine is keen to buy solar power at a rate of 50 percent above the European average, making this an attractive proposition for energy businesses.

At that size, as much as 100 megawatts of solar energy could be tapped.