Chernobyl’s future in solar?

 By Peter Ward

Ukraine is looking to install $1.1 billion of solar panels on the site of the Chernobyl disaster, putting a radioactive wasteland back in the energy business. What are the benefits? Are there any risks? Who will invest in the project?

(Cover photo by

How do you make use of an atomic wasteland? Ukraine is looking to install $1.1 billion of solar panels on the site of the Chernobyl disaster, putting a radioactive wasteland back in the energy business.

Chernobyl’s 1,000 square mile (2,590 square kilometer) exclusion zone is too radioactive to be used for any other productivities, such as farming or forestry, but Ukraine is now looking for investors for a solar energy plant on the site. “The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy,” Ukraine’s environment minister Ostap Semerak, told Bloomberg. “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.”

Semerak has also said that the Ukrainian ministry of environmental and natural resources has been negotiating with two U.S. investment firms and four Canadian energy companies. The developers are planning to install a 4 MW project by the end of the year.

In July, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) suggested it would be prepared to lend money for the renewable energy plan at Chernobyl. The same organization provided $500 million to build a large “sarcophagus” over the destroyed reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear site. “The EBRD may consider participating in the project so long as there are viable investment proposals and all other environmental matters and risks can be addressed to the bank’s satisfaction,” said a spokesman.

Residents and tourists have begun returning to Chernobyl (photo by

Ukraine is looking to complete 34 solar power plans with a total capacity of over 120 MW by the end of 2016, according to the government. The country is attempting to increase its share of energy produced from renewables to 11 percent by 2020.

Until recently, Ukraine has been dependent on Russia for natural gas imports. The country has slowly reduced its dependence on its neighbor, which has threatened to cut Ukraine off for the past two winters over payment disputes.

In neighboring Belarus, just 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Chernobyl, a 22.3 MW solar plant is under construction in the Brahin district. The area was one of the most contaminated by the fallout from the Chernobyl disaster and the land there is also not suitable for uses such as agriculture. Velcom, a subsidiary of the Austrian company Telecom announced an investment of $25.3 million in the project in April. The company plans to use the energy for its own needs, and sell the generated electricity as well.


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about the author
Peter Ward
Business and technology reporter based in New York. MA in Business Journalism at Columbia University Journalism School 2013. Five years experience reporting in the U.S., the U.K., and the Middle East.