Thursday03 September 2015

Nuclear bunker looks like a... nuclear bunker, say architects

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Damaged Chernobyl reactor to be re-sealed inside giant shell

Ukraine has secured $785 million in pledges from world governments towards the construction of a vast steel shell to seal the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.

The work, by contractor Novarka, has become necessary because the concrete “sarcophagus” built around the stricken reactor in 1986 has developed serious cracks.

The 20,000-tonne shed will be 100m tall – big enough to contain St Paul’s Cathedral – and will take five years to construct. The two halves will be wheeled into place because it is too dangerous to work on site.

While the project is clearly a feat of engineering, architects couldn’t help but comment that it lacked a certain architectural flair.

Bill Gething, sustainability expert at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, said it was clearly the work of an engineer, before adding conciliatorily that an architect would have designed something so complicated it would have leaked.

“Let’s hope this one works or we will end up with a set of Russian dolls,” he said.

“Maybe they could paint it sky blue to make it disappear. But why should it be beautiful? No one is going to look at it because everyone’s got to keep away. It’s very sensible of them not to waste money on architects’ fees.”

Iain Macdonald, director at nuclear specialist YRM, said: “Novarka’s monolithic form is derived from its construction and operational logics – what’s missing is the human scale, innovative shaping and symbolism that an architect’s involvement would contribute.  Wallpaper won’t be enough.”



Readers' comments (4)

  • Looks fine to me!

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  • The Observer piece on these structures is much more thoughtful and considered - "we must live with the thought that in some unimaginable future aeons hence, this could be all that remains to prove our species was ever here."

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  • David Clark

    If there's truth to the principle of "economies of scale and numbers", can we order three, now, while the going is good? - one for Chernobyl, the second for Fukushima and the third in kit form ready for shipping to the next 'totally safe' nuclear plant site where radiation leakage is also "so remote a possibility" as to be discounted entirely. Until it happens.

    The comments of "lacked an architectural flair" illustrate the source of the growing irrelevance of architects in the discourse of the greater built environment. This containment is a utilitarian function to save us from the grave errors of judgement which placed expedience over prudence. It needs no dressing to make it look like something it is not, no waste of resources that may be better used elsewhere. It should never 'blend into its surroundings". Architectural double-speak should be called for what it is - gobbledygook and waffling.

    This containment will stand for centuries to symbolize man's arrogance. Few will see it directly, the millions will only see the aerial images. It should have a giant yellow-and-black radiation warning sign on the roof, as large as there is space for. It must remain a brutal reminder of the brute forces which we thought we could predict and control under all circumstances, it must humiliate.

    The cracking and eventual failure of the concrete dumped on Chernobyl was entirely predictable by any structural engineer. The stuff expands and contracts and needs expansion joints all over the place. If there aren't any, it makes it's own. It is seen all the time on ordinary construction. Underneath this containment, Chernobyl's concrete containment will continue to degrade, leaving the steel as the last frontier. What then are the risks to this containment structure? Who decides what acceptable technical limits to target in this structure? The bean counters? What is unforeseen? Nobody knows.

    A Fukushima melt-down is still a possibility. They knew the terrible extent of the damage and failure in week one, but were too intent on 'saving face' to admit it and less intent on saving people and the environment. So a rash of "try this" and "try that" followed. Designed as earthquake resistant, indeed. Who decided that magnitude 7.something was a good specification anyway? on what basis?

    An appropriate quote : "Most people don't think about what they don't think about." You see, even in the land that gave us the word "tsunami", when they designed specs for Fukushima, they didn't make the simple and obvious connection of "earthquake" = "tsunami".

    (Chanting in background "No more nukes! no more nukes! no more nukes! ... )

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  • I agree with Mr Clark, governments seem to be missing foresight!.

    We seem to think we can control everything, but good old mother earth just reminds us that we aren't and never will be able to control her.

    We need a positive fix to issues not a quick fix that most professionals can see isn't going work or fail in a short amount of time.

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