By Glenn Fleishman
Updated: October 6, 2018 12:05 PM ET | Originally published: October 5, 2018

A new solar-electric farm has opened in what might seem like an ironic location: about 300 feet from the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which suffered a meltdown in 1986, a disaster that ultimately killed thousands of people and spread radiation across Europe and Russia.

But it’s symbolic, rather than ironic. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, an independent Ukraine inherited Chernobyl’s aftermath. Despite the meltdown, the nuclear plant’s other reactors continued to generate power through 2000.

While the damaged Chernobbyl reactor is now under a massive arch slid into place in 2016 to contain toxic leaks and radiation, the surrounding 1,000 square miles can’t be safely occupied by humans for another 24,000 years. The idea of using the Chernobyl land for low-maintenance power generation proved appealing.

Solar Chernobyl started operation on Oct. 5, and has a capacity of 1 megawatt (MW), or roughly 2,000 households. It’s located about 100 meters (330 feet) from the shielded reactor. The company is a joint German-Ukrainian venture, and the cost was a mere $1.2 million.

The Ukrainian government has offered land at extremely low prices, and will pay a premium for power generated there, as much as 50% above the European average.

This first stage occupies about 4 acres, and authorities have offered over 6,000 acres (about 10 square miles) for solar farms. Ultimately, as much as 100 MW of solar power could be constructed. The area is already well set up with connections to the power grid. The four nuclear reactors could produce up to 4,000 MW.

Two previous solar-energy farms—with 82 and 100 MW capacity—were built in the Crimea region of Ukraine, which has been annexed by Russia, cutting off Ukraine’s supply. Russia and Ukraine have long-running disputes over natural-gas supplies that are so extensive, there’s a Wikipedia page devoted to them. Ukraine still relies on Russian for nuclear fuel for other power plants, and for coal, which remains a significant energy source in the country.

Ukraine has rapidly added renewable energy sources, however, with hundreds of megawatts of wind and solar power brought on line in 2018. The country now totals nearly 600 MW.

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