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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chernobyl – the site of the Soviet mishap that was the worst nuclear accident in human history – will soon be producing power again.

This time, it will be solar power.

A 1-megawatt solar plant with 3,800 photovoltaic panels will cover the size of two soccer fields – just 100 meters from the “sarcophagus” hastily constructed to keep in the radioactive plumes in 1986 in the wake of the accident, according to European media accounts.

The €1 million facility will be able to power a medium-size village, according to Solar Chernobyl, a company based in the Ukraine and Germany that is driving the project. The company already operates a bigger 4.2-megawatt plant on the Belarusian side of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the 1,000-mile swath of irradiated landscape surrounding ground zero.

“Bit by bit we want to optimize the Chernobyl zone,” said Yevgen Varyagin, the head of Solar Chernobyl, in an interview with Bloomberg last year. “It shouldn’t be a black hold in the middle of the Ukraine.”

The Chernobyl reactor number four and its hastily-built sarcophagus will be ensconced in an unprecedented feat of engineering this year: a New Safe Confinement shield that looks like an enormous airplane hangar will finally be completed, after more than €2 billion and a decade of work.

The secretive Soviet Union only admitted to the disaster when the plume was detected by scientists in Scandinavia, thousands of miles away, in the days after the April 26, 1986 meltdown and consequence explosion.

Fifty people, mostly emergency responders, died. (The World Health Organization estimates the overall death toll at 9,000 or more due to increased cancer rates in the region, while the environmental group Greenpeace places it at 90,000).

Some 135,000 people, including all of the adjoining town of Pripyat, were evacuated. Today, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone encompasses more than 1,000 square miles around the sealed tomb of the melted-down core at reactor four.

Three of the staff were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in labor camps for their actions at Chernobyl. The first state explanation placed most of the blame for the disaster on them. However, subsequent reports in the 1990s placed greater emphasis on the flawed plant design’s role in the disaster. Of specific note were the graphite tips of the control rods, which actually boosted power output for the first few seconds of deployment, according to the later reports.

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