Repurposing land that can’t be used for other purposes is a familiar theme in the solar industry. Recently, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina elected to install a solar farm atop a long abandoned land fill. In many parts of the world, solar panels are covering lakes and reservoirs. Now, two Chinese companies are proposing a $1 billion grid scale solar farm atop the tortured land around the Soviet nuclear power plant at Chernobyl. Of all the land in the entire world, this may be the least productive and least likely to have any other useful purpose for the next 1,000 years or more.
A subsidiary of Golden Concord Holdings (GLC), one of China’s biggest renewable energy concerns, will supply and install solar panels at the site, while a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Machinery Corporation (Sinomach) will build and run the grid scale solar plant. “It is cheap land and abundant sunlight constitutes a solid foundation for the project,” says Ostap Semerak, Ukraine’s minister of environment and natural resources. “In addition, the remaining electric transmission facilities are ready for reuse.”
In a press release, GLC says that work on the proposed 1 gigawatt solar facility will probably start this year. “There will be remarkable social benefits and economical ones as we try to renovate the once-damaged area with green and renewable energy,” says Shu Hua, chairman of the GLC subsidiary. “We are glad that we are making joint efforts with Ukraine to rebuild the community for the local people.”
Radiation from the meltdown at the Chernobyl factory in 1986 reached as far away as the mountains and hills of Wales in the UK and a substantial portion of the radioactive dust released fell on farmlands in Belarus, north of Ukraine.
Until now, the exclusion zone, including the town of Pripyat, has been out of bounds for most people, with only limited farming activity permitted on lands that are still regarded as contaminated. Former residents of the area are allowed back only once or twice a year to visit their old homes or to tend their relatives’ graves. However, a growing number of tourists have been visiting the Chernobyl area recently.
There has also been renewed interest in Chernobyl due to recent major engineering work at the former nuclear power plant. A new steel-clad sarcophagus — described as the largest movable land-based structure ever built — is being wheeled into position over much of the structure to prevent any further leaks of radiation. At this time, Ukrainian officials and executives of the two Chinese companies have not disclosed what plans they have to protect the workers who will construct the new solar facility near the site of the nuclear disaster.
Ecologists who have visited the exclusion zone around Chernobyl say that there is an abundance of wildlife in the area, with substantial populations of elk, deer, wild boar and wolves but other researchers say there is still evidence of contamination in the area. They say that few insects have survived the disaster and that smaller mammals still show signs of radiation damage.
Will a new renewable energy facility make a fitting epitaph to the horror that befell Chernobyl?