Ministers create presentation to show how idle land around nuclear disaster site can be used to produce renewable energy
The contaminated nuclear wasteland around Chernobyl could be turned into one of the world’s largest solar farms, producing nearly a third of the electricity that the stricken plant generated at its height 30 years ago, according to the Ukrainian government.
In a presentation sent to major banks and seen by the Guardian, 6,000 hectares of “idle” land in Chernobyl’s 1,000 square km exclusion zone, which is considered too dangerous for people to live in or farm, could be turned to solar, biogas and heat and power generation.
Pressure has been mounting for years to allow industrial development, but no indication is given of where the solar panels would be located. “There has been a change in the perception of the exclusion zone in Ukraine. Thirty years after the Chernobyl tragedy [it] reveals opportunities for development. A special industrial area is to be created in compliance with all rules and regulations of radiation safety within the exclusion zone,” says the presentation.
Tens of thousands of people in Ukraine, Belarus and south Russia were evacuated immediately after the 1986 accident from a wide area around the nuclear plant and places where the radioactive plume descended. A few hundred people still live in 11 semi-deserted villages close to Chernobyl.
There is “about 6,000 hectares of idle land, some of which can be used for placement of electrical generation facilities, and some for energy crops”, according to the presentation.
The Ukrainian government said more than 1,000MW of solar and 400MW of other renewable energy could be generated. The nuclear plant had an installed capacity of around 4,000MW.
The advantage of generating renewable power at the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident is that the land is cheap and plentiful, and the sunshine is as strong as in southern Germany. In addition, the grid infrastructure and high-voltage power lines needed to transmit electricity to the national grid remain intact, the presentation added.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) this week indicated it would be prepared to lend money for the renewable energy plan. The EBRD has already provided more than $500m (£379m) to build a large stainless steel “sarcophagus” over the destroyed reactor, which will remain dangerous for thousands of years.
“The EBRD may consider 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,” said a spokesman.
The move to solar reflects a new energy reality involving plunging renewable energy costs and escalating costs of nuclear power. Hours of sunshine in the Chernobyl area compare favourably with southern Germany, one of the largest solar producers in the world.
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.
Meanwhile in Belarus, just 20 miles from Chernobyl, a 22.3MW solar plant is already under construction in Brahin district, around 20 miles from Chernobyl. The district was one of the most contaminated by Chernobyl’s fallout and the land where the plant is to be built is not suitable for agriculture.