One million euros have been spent on turning what was once a nuclear wasteland into the country's only solar power plant
Ukraine to launch its first solar plant at Chernobyl
At ground zero of Ukraine's Chernobyl tragedy, workers in orange vests are busy erecting hundreds of dark-coloured panels as the country gets ready to launch its first solar plant to revive what is now desolate, abandoned territory.
The new one-megawatt power plant is located just a hundred metres from the new "sarcophagus", a giant metal dome sealing the remains of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the worst nuclear disaster in the world.
"This solar power plant can cover the needs of a medium-sized village", or about 2,000 flats, said Yevgen Varyagin, the head of the Ukrainian-German company Solar Chernobyl which carried out the project. The solar installation is to go on stream within weeks.
The group has spent one million euros (Dh 4.4 million) on the structure which has about 3,800 photovoltaic panels installed across an area of 1.6 hectares - about the size of two football fields - and hopes the investment will pay for itself within seven years.
"The amount of sunshine here is the same as in the south of Germany," says Mr Varyagin.
Ukraine, which has stopped buying natural gas from Russia in the last two years, is seeking to exploit the potential of the Chernobyl exclusion zone that surrounds the damaged nuclear power plant. It is uninhabited and cannot be farmed.
Reactor Number Four of the Chernobyl plant exploded on April 26, 1986 and the fallout contaminated up to three quarters of Europe, according to some estimates, especially hitting Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Following the disaster, Soviet authorities evacuated hundreds of thousands of people and this vast territory, over 2,000 square kilometres wide, has remained abandoned. The plant continued to operate the remaining reactors, the last of which was shut down in 2000, ending industrial activity in the area.
People cannot return to live in the zone for "more than 24,000 years", according to the Ukrainian authorities, who nevertheless argue that prudent industrial use is possible again.
"This territory obviously cannot be used for agriculture, but it is quite suitable for innovative and scientific projects," said Ostap Semerak, Ukrainian environment minister and one of the promoters of placing solar projects in Chernobyl, in 2016.
A huge dome was installed last year to cover the ruins of the damaged reactor to ensure greater isolation of the highly radioactive magma in the reactor. As a result, radiation near the plant plummeted to just one-tenth of previous levels, according to official figures.
Even so, precautions are still necessary: the solar panels are fixed onto a base of concrete blocks rather than placed on the ground. The strict safety rules forbid drilling or digging into the earth, as the soil remains contaminated.
Last year the consortium — a joint venture between the Ukrainian firm Rodina Energy Group and Germany's Enerparc AG — completed a 4.2-megawatt solar power plant in the irradiated zone in neighbouring Belarus, just over the border from Chernobyl.
Ukrainian authorities offered investors nearly 2,500 hectares — 25 square kilometres - for potential construction of solar power plants in Chernobyl.