Ukraine wants to turn Chernobyl into a massive solar farm. It’s money versus Nature and commonsense all over again

Chernobyl pripyat building

A story recently hit the news that Ukraine is seeking investors to turn radiation-riddled Chernobyl into a massive solar farm. If successful, it would produce 1 gigawatt of power from an array in the 1,000 square mile “exclusion zone.”

At a cost of $1.1 billion, the project would create one of the world’s largest solar installations. So far, two U.S. investment firms and four Canadian energy companies have said they’re interested, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is considering financing this renewable energy project.

“The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy,” Ukraine’s environment minister Ostap Semerak said. “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.”

All well and good. Except for the obvious.

Wild ponies are among the diverse animals that are part of the fabric of the abandoned land of Chernobyl

Wild ponies are among the diverse animals that are part of the fabric of the abandoned land of Chernobyl

In the 30 years since the Chernobyl disaster, wildlife of all kinds have taken up residence in the human-abandoned cities and countryside. While they are effected by the extremely high levels of radiation that permeate the area, many of which experience mutations and other evidence of exposure, they are thriving. Should solar arrays be plunked down into what has become a de facto nature preserve, the impact on the animals couldn’t be inconsequential.

“We have normal European priorities, which means having the best standards with the environment and clean energy ambitions,” said Semerak.

Alright, but there are a lot of questions that should be addressed before blithely, excitedly moving forward with this type of venture.

An aerial view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident. Photo courtesy of AP

An aerial view of the Chernobyl nucler power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident. Photo courtesy of AP

For one – and this is a big one – already scientists are limited as to the amount of time they can safely spend in the exclusion zone. To create a solar farm takes a lot of man hours. How will human workers be kept safe during the tough type of construction? The risk of radiation poisoning seems to be pretty high.

And it certainly looks like once again the drive for clean energy will come at the expense of wildlife. There’s not been any reported conversation about how to balance priorities with what is living in the zone. Wouldn’t it be a unique opportunity if this type of conversation and commitment to conservation were to happen?

Wouldn’t it be a real missed opportunity if this didn’t occur.

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