For over 30 years, the area in and around Chernobyl in Northern Ukraine has been a wasteland. In April 1986, the unthinkable occurred when a devastating nuclear meltdown turned the once-thriving town into a no man’s land while also poisoning much of Eastern Europe with radiation. In the years since, Chernobyl has remained a highly radioactive ghost town, an eerie reminder of the dangers of nuclear power. However, that could all soon change as groups of international investors are now seeking to transform the abandoned town into a solar power plant.
According to Ostap Semerak, Ukraine’s Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, 39 different groups have applied for permission to install up to 2 gigawatts of solar panels on land that will continue to remain uninhabitable for hundreds of years. 2 gigawatts, as Bloomberg notes, is almost the same energy output that would be produced by two modern nuclear reactors. Semerak told Bloomberg News that Ukraine has “received requests from businesses that are interested in renting land for building solar power stations.” Many of those requests have come from China where Chinese companies such as GCL System Integration Technology Co Ltd and China National Complete Engineering Corp have pitched their plans to build a 1-gigawatt solar power facility on the site. Another major investor group hails from Germany and has asked permission to install 500 megawatts worth of solar panels in the area. Other proposed projects are much smaller, averaging projected outputs of around 20 megawatts.
Semerak said that the companies, overall, have requested between 20 hectares and 1,000 hectares for the projects. He elaborated on the Ukrainian government’s feelings about the projects’ potential, saying that “we are not looking to profit from land use, we are looking to profit from investment.” The project could indeed be profitable as well as set an example for subsequent solar projects in other uninhabitable or inhospitable regions. However, the effort to attract investors may not turn a profit immediately for the Ukrainian government as it has offered an 85% rent reduction along with subsidies per kilowatt of energy produced through the year 2030. Yet, Ukraine’s government is focused more on just the money as it is also desperate to establish energy independence in order to avoid relying on Russia for its energy needs.
Though the logic behind the Chernobyl project is both sound and resourceful, there could be a major obstacle even if the Ukrainian government grants permission to the Chinese and German firms seeking to bring solar energy to the area. According to Bloomberg, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development is uncomfortable financing the project, saying that any loans granted would be contingent on “environmental due diligence.” The Bank’s spokesman, Anton Usov, said that projects would have to be safe to install and operate while also being commercially viable in order to qualify for funding. Yet, if bureaucracy manages to avoid derailing this project, something good may finally come out of the Chernobyl wasteland for the first time in several decades.