More than three decades after the most infamous nuclear disaster in history, Chernobyl has gone solar. After two years of construction, two energy companies pulled back the curtain on Ukraine’s latest feat: nearly 4,000 solar panels now call the 4-acre fallout zone home. The plant is inside the 770-square-mile Exclusion Zone, where the nuclear fallout is the highest and public access and habitation are restricted.
It was April 26, 1986, when the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant blew its top. The fourth reactor was fundamentally flawed and the workers in charge of making sure it functioned properly weren’t up to snuff, causing an explosion that was heard around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated. Pripyat, the nearby town, was abandoned and remains empty (save for a surprisingly bustling tourist industry) to this day. Over 2,000 square miles are considered uninhabitable, and estimates are that no one’s going to be moving in near the explosion site for the next 20,000-or-so years. Now, the damaged reactor is buried in a giant tomb made of metal and cement.
But that doesn’t mean the contaminated land surrounding it is going to waste. Enerparc AG, a Germany-based clean-energy company and a Ukrainian engineering firm Rodina Energy Group Ltd shook hands on a deal to add to Ukraine’s power grid with renewables, choosing to use the unused land around as the site of their solar panels. The four acres of solar panels can produce enough power for 2,000 households. The solar plant is just steps from the station that caused the meltdown, and despite how risky that may sound, it’s there for a good reason. The plant is still hooked up to the grid, making the transition nearly seamless.
With any luck, those 2,000 homes will just be the beginning. Ukrainian officials are hoping to build a plant that covers around 6,000 acres and could generate 100 megawatts of energy, but they need investors. Since the land in the Exclusion Zone can’t be used for anything, covering it with solar panels in a bid to make Ukraine a little more self-sufficient is a very bright idea.