More than 30 years ago in spring of 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power station melted down. Now uninhabitable, the Ukrainian government may now have found another use for the roughly 1,600 square mile of land: a solar station.
If it goes through, as much as 4,000 megawatts of solar generation would be located there, which is the same amount that the nuclear units there had once produced. Strangely, and even though the once-modern locale is now a ghost town, the transmission infrastructure is still in place.
“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,” Ukraine’s environment minister said to the Independent in the United Kingdom. “We have normal European priorities, which means having the best standards with the environment and clean energy ambitions.”
That news story does not address whether the infrastructure actually still works, only that it still exist. The story, though, does question the safety of such a pursuit. That is, if the area is unsafe to live, why exactly would it be Okay for workers to go in there and build a solar farm?
Before addressing that issue, it is important to note that the Chernobyl-style nuclear plant was built with older Soviet nuclear technologies that had few redundancies, meaning that if one part of the plant failed then other key components would kick in to avert catastrophe. American nuclear plants have such protections and the newer ones in the queue have even more safety provisions.
Moreover, “The Russians, meanwhile, have a turn-key approach based on new technologies,” says Tom Drolet, a nuclear energy expert in Florida, in an interview. The country thus plans to grow its nuclear fleet as well as market its modern technologies.
To reach its new dream of more solar power, Russia’s southern neighbor, Ukraine, wants to attract $1.1 billion. Is this something investors would be interested in?
“The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy,” Ukraine’s environment minister Ostap Semerak, 44, told Bloomberg. “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.”
In Belarus, only a short hop from Chernobyl, a solar farm is present and supplies about 22 megawatts of power.
As has been well reported, Ukraine has long been dependent on Russia for natural gas. And Russia has held that economic leverage over Ukraine, which has caused strife between the two countries. Russia provides anywhere from one-third to one-half of Ukraine’s natural gas. And, since 2006, the two nations have had legitimate battles over how to value that vital product.
With solar resources better than Germany’s, the Bloomberg story says that this is the direction in which Ukraine wants to head: it already has 39,000 megawatts of solar. That appeal has drawn interest from two US investment firms and four Canadian energy companies, the story adds. A European economic development bank is also talking with leaders there.
Globally, the photovoltaic solar industry that uses panels is expected to supply 200,000 megawatts of power, according to the Germany-based BSW-Solar. By 2020, it says that figure could reach 400,000 megawatts.
Germany and Spain are the globe’s leaders, although the Asian markets and the United States are the fastest growing.